|Released Feb. 17, Charlie Wilson's CD Uncle Charlie contains the Top 20 urban radio hit "There Goes My Baby," co-written by singer/songwriter/producer Babyface. The disc, which debuted last month at #1 on Billboard magazine's R&B Albums chart and #2 on its Pop Albums chart, includes appearances by rapper Snoop Dogg and Oscar-winning actor/vocalist Jamie Foxx.
Twenty-seven years ago, he detonated dance floors with his hyper-funky party jam "You Dropped a Bomb on Me." But last July, Charlie Wilson's doctor was the one doing the bomb-dropping: The veteran soul singer/songwriter/keyboardist had prostate cancer.
Compounding the shock, his physician told him that the disease was progressing rapidly. In one month, Wilson's prostate specific antigen (PSA) level jumped from 3.9 to 4.9 ng/ml. A biopsy confirmed the cancer.
The diagnosis stunned the former lead vocalist of The Gap Band, whose professional and personal fortunes have seesawed dramatically over the past three decades. After recording a string of seminal hits (see sidebar) with his bandmate brothers Ronnie and Robert in the 1980s, Wilson found himself a homeless, penniless addict by the mid-1990s. In recent years, he'd beaten back his demons and staged an unlikely comeback. Embraced as an avuncular elder statesman by Nineties new jack swing artists (who emulated his husky/tangy vocal style) and hip-hop acts (who sampled his Gap Band hits), he began collaborating with rapper Snoop Dogg and au courant hit makers Justin Timberlake and R. Kelly, the latter penning and producing Wilson's 2005 urban smash, "Charlie, Last Name Wilson."
And now, just as he was finishing work on his latest solo CD, R&B's "Uncle Charlie" found himself grappling with the same disease that was slowly killing his father, a retired Pentecostal minister. "It seems like I've been through so much," says the 56-year-old, recalling his frustration following the diagnosis. "I've come through people robbing me of the millions of dollars my brothers and I [made], I've come through the drugs and alcohol battle, and now, to bounce back and go to No. 1. and all of a sudden, the cancer.
"It's like the dark side always keeps poking at me. I don't know why. I stay prayerful," he says, managing a rueful chuckle, "but it just seems that Satan is always poking."
Wilson decided to poke back. He refused to wallow in self-pity: His doctor had detected his cancer early, thanks to the screening Wilson underwent at the urging of his wife, Mahin, whom he met in 1995 when she was director of the rehab center that treated him.
Realizing that African-American males are nearly twice as likely to develop prostate cancer as other men, Wilson told his manager that he couldn't keep his struggle private. "I said, 'We're going public with it-it's now time for me to start informing people about this disease.'" He aligned himself with the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF, http://prostatecancerfoundation.org) to create the Charlie Wilson-PCF Creativity Research Grant, which will support creative, high-potential research concepts that lack funding. (To make a donation, visit http://unclecharliewilson.com.)
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