Charles Brown was a classically trained pianist in addition to being a composer, balladeer, and R&B singer. Tony Russell Charles Brown was born in Texas City, Texas, on September 13, 1922, to John Mose Brown and Mattie Evelyn Simpson Brown. Brown graduated from Galveston Central High School in 1939 and then enrolled as a chemistry major at Prairie View A&M College (now Prairie View A&M University) in Prairie View, Texas. In 1942, he received his bachelor of science degree.
Brown taught natural sciences at George Washington Carver High School in Baytown, Texas, for a short time, while also performing locally as a singer. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1943 and worked in local shipyards during WWII while continuing to pursue a musical career. Brown’s first single, “Merry Christmas Baby,” was released in 1947, and he was the featured pianist and singer. The song reached number three on the Billboard R&B chart.
Brown formed a trio with Eddie Williams on bass and Charles Norris on guitar in 1948. They had only minor success in Bay Area nightclubs until 1960, when Brown released “Please Come Home for Christmas,” a song he wrote with Gene Redd.
“Please Come Home for Christmas,” also known as “Bells Will Be Ringing,” gradually gained popularity. The song peaked at number one on Billboard’s Christmas singles chart twelve years after its initial release. During that time, “Please Come Home for Christmas” sold over a million copies, making it the first million-selling R&B Christmas song and a magnificent, soulful Christmas classic for thousands of fans.
Brown’s musical career, on the other hand, moved slowly. Brown’s album All My Life was nominated for “Best Traditional Blues Album” at the 34th Grammy Awards in 1991. In 1995, he was nominated for the same award again at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards for his album Cool Christmas Blues, which had been released earlier that year.
Brown was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influences category three years later in 1999.
Charles Brown died on January 21, 1999, in Oakland, California, of cardiac complications. He was 76.