By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
The incomparable Charlie Wilson gave a show of all shows well past curfew for some at a recent United Center concert. To set off the night, hosted by V103, were the iconic girls group EnVogue and male swooner Joe.
EnVogue sang from their catalogue of hits, including “My Lovin (You’re Never Gonna Get It”), “Hold On,” “Free Your Mind,” which they noted as a song dedicated to social justice, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” and one of their new hits called “Rocket” from their latest album “Electric Café.” The group who came on the scene in the 90s gave a great show and looked great on stage. There were originally four women in this group, and now there are only three. One of the members was from Chicago, and her well wishers were in full effect during the concert. As usual they were glamorous as they have been known to present themselves.
During a television interview that I saw on the Wendy Williams Show, I discovered that although EnVogue hasn’t released an album in 14 years and went through some amicable songstress changes, they have constantly been touring. During the concert, they were excited about “Rocket” and the opportunity to do a trendy video to accompany the song.
Next Joe performed, all dapper in a tuxedo-styled suit and Red Bottom loafers. He performed hits from his repertoire, including “All The Things (Your Man Won’t Do”), “Don’t Wanna Be a Player” and “I Wanna Know,” which had the ladies in the packed United Center swaying in their seats and egging him on for more.
Finally, the man of the hour came on, and “Charlie, Last Name Wilson” didn’t disappoint. He has been performing for more than five decades—longer than some of the audience members have been around. At 65 years of age, it must be noted that Uncle Charlie has more energy and swagger than performers half his age. He was accompanied by a bevy of female singers, who changed outfits a few times to fit the song being performed. There were also a few males in his entourage, some with musical instruments and all wearing nicely-coordinated athletic suits and tennis shoes. None of their tennis shoes, however, could come close to Mr. Wilson’s, which were high top gold lamé.
As most people know, Uncle Charlie started with and helped to organize the Gap Band years ago and struck out on his own solo career in 2000, after having counted up numerous hits with the Gap Band.
During the United Center concert, Uncle Charlie performed “Burn Rubber on Me,” “Outstanding,” “Early in the Morning,” and other hits—which included an homage to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” and a cell-phone light enhanced tribute to Prince. Toward the end, Uncle Charlie, who has beaten a drug and alcohol addiction for more than 20 years, gave thanks to God for his life and new lifestyle. His hit “I’m Blessed,” from his “In It to Win It” album, was well received by Chicago’s mature audience. This is the first of Uncle Charlie’s albums to NOT have his name included in the title. I am familiar with “I’m Blessed,” which was No. 1 on Hot Gospel Songs earlier this year, and it is a great, big thank you for clean living, sobriety and longevity.
“’I’m Blessed’ says exactly where I am in my life, blessed to still be making music that people want to hear,” says Wilson. “2018 has been a tough year for so many people around the world, so I’m proud to release a song to remind us that we can all find some blessings in our lives. And having T.I. bring his flavor, sharing who he is and how his journey is filled with blessings, is an added bonus.”
According to his biography, to celebrate his 23 years of sobriety, helping homeless addicts and educating the African-American community about prostate cancer, Uncle Charlie was honored at the 2018 NAACP Image Awards with the first ever Music Makes A Difference Award. “It was truly an overwhelming experience to receive this award,” stated Wilson. “There are numerous people who have been by my side these last 22 years and the most important person is my wife Mahin.”
In the years between the Gap Band’s heyday and his solo success, Wilson also overcame homelessness and beat prostate cancer. He chronicled his odds-defying life and career in his 2015 best-selling autobiography, “I Am Charlie Wilson.” Added Wilson: “I wouldn’t have believed I’d be where I am right now. That’s why I shout every night because I thank God for allowing me to be here.”
After about 90 minutes of singing, dancing and profiling as only Uncle Charlie could, he ended his set. He gave his all to the audience, leaving everything on the floor. To the very end, he gave a spirited, hand-clapping, toe-tapping, “get on your feet and dance” performance. A performance that was delivered so well that a fan would come to see him again and again—with no complaints about any shortcomings.
And while he has left Chicago on the “Party Train,” he’s not done yet for the year. Uncle Charlie is taking his show of 10 No. 1 singles, some of which represent 11 Grammy Award nominations, off to other venues in December and beyond. These include Richmond, Virginia; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Columbia, South Carolina; and the Columbus Civic Center in Columbus, Georgia, on New Year’s Eve. This, along with a good slate of performances due in 2019, attests to the fact that Uncle Charlie isn’t done yet; he’s “In It To Win It.” So, if you haven’t caught his show yet, make plans to do so. You won’t be disappointed, it is as if you are at a family reunion.
For more information about Charlie Wilson’s “In It To Win It Tour,” visit http://www.charliewilsonmusic.com/#tour.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the award-winning Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.”