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By Shannon Carlin

To all those fans stuck in the nosebleed section, Charles Bradley is singing to you.

At every show he’s ever played, the 65-year-old soul singer—who kicks off a month-long U.S. tour tonight (Jan. 16) in Washington, D.C.—has made it his goal to reach out and touch those people in the way, way back of the venue. Sometimes literally, as Bradley makes it a nightly ritual to head out into the crowd and hug those fans who seem like they’re in desperate need of one.

“Sometimes I can really, actually look in their faces and see the hurt. I walk out on stage and see that person and hug that person,” Bradley told “I try to hug all I can…Sometimes my tour manager has to get me, ‘Charles, come down. It’s time to go.’ I just really want to hug everybody.”

Growing up, Bradley was abandoned by his mom and later ran away from home due to poor living conditions. He never could afford front row tickets, so now he feels it’s his duty to connect with those who shell out as much as they can to see him do his thing on stage. His “thing” being a revival of what James Brown was doing in the ’60s and ’70s. We’re talking rhinestone leisure suits and microphone tricks that make us want to get out the cape. Not that Bradley’s act is all that surprising, being that he got his musical start in the late ’90s as Black Velvet, a James Brown impersonator.

Bradley first saw the Godfather of Soul perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY when he was just 14 years old. “I saw him and was like ‘Whoa,'” Bradley said. “The way he got onstage, the way he gave his all, it made me realize, if you’re going to do something, you have to give it your all.” So that night after the show, young Charles went home and tied a mop to a string so he could practice Brown’s patented bouncing mic trick. Now, over 50 years later, Bradley has it down to a science.

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