Broadcast Pioneers member Charlie Gracie
Broadcast Pioneers member Charlie Gracie is one of a diminishing number of rock& roll innovators, who continues to actively perform today.
Born Charles Anthony Graci on Thursday, May 14, 1936 in South Philly, he was one musician who can boast that he never had a day job. He has been a performer all his life.
The owner of Cadillac Records, Graham Prince, heard one of Gracie's early radio performances, contacted the young musician and signed him to a recording contract. This association yielded the single, "Boogie Woogie Blues" backed with "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter." The record led to Charlie's first appearance on Bob Horn's Bandstand television program, then a local TV program on WFIL-TV, Channel 6 in Philadelphia.
After cutting two more singles for Cadillac, Rockin´ ´n´ Rollin´ being one of the titles, Charlie moved on to 20th Century Records where he put out another four sides. The discs he made embraced a wide variety of styles: jump blues, gospel, and country boogie with the influences of Big Joe Turner, B.B. King, Louis Jordan, Roy Acuff, and Hank Williams.
Charlie made appearances on both the Paul White Teen Club on ABC that originated out of WFIL and the Horn and Hardart's Children's Hour from WCAU radio and television.
A native of South Philadelphia, he became the first successful recording star of the "Rock Era" to emerge from that neighborhood. In 1957, Charlie's 'Butterfly' topped the American and British music charts, selling over 3 million copies. His other late 50's big sellers include: 'Fabulous', 'Ninety-Nine Ways', 'Wanderin Eyes' and 'I Love You So Much It Hurts' and 'Cool Baby." These hits bankrolled Philly's famous Cameo-Parkway record label, making it a dominant force in the music industry for nearly a decade.
At the height of his fame, Charlie frequently appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand," "The Ed Sullivan Show," and "Alan Freed's TV Specials." He headlined shows at the Brooklyn Paramount, the Casino Royale in Washington, the 500 Club in Atlantic City, the Opera House in Chicago and old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. Charlie also starred with Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis in a classic Warner Brother's movie musical: "Jamboree!"
Charlie's star burned even brighter in Great Britain where he became first solo American artist to bring rock & roll to the English concert stage. Preceded only by Bill Haley and the Comets, Charlie headlined London's Palladium and Hippodrome receiving outstanding receptions from the press and public. To this day, Charlie Gracie, is a much loved and respected performer the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
While Charlie has earned a place in rock music history, this is only one dimension to a career that spans 60 years. His versatility makes him the consummate music man. Even now, Charlie enjoys a strong following at clubs and resorts along the Northeast Corridor of the U.S.
Twice, annually, he performs to large audiences in countries such as: England, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Finland and Holland. His superb guitar playing has elicited the highest of praise from music legends such as: George Harrison. The late Beatle once referred to Charlie's guitar technique as "brilliant" in a March 1996 interview with Billboard Magazine. Paul McCartney paid tribute to Charlie by recording an updated version of 'Fabulous' on cd entitled: "Run Devil Run." McCartney honored Charlie again that fall by inviting him to the album's premiere party in London.
The new Millennium found Charlie on the road with Irish blues rocker, Van Morrison. Van, another Charlie Gracie admirer, commissioned him to open several shows on a West Coast tour which included the Wiltern in Los Angeles, the House of Blues in Las Vegas and the Hilton in Reno.
In 2007 ,Charlie was the subject of a made for PBS-TV documentary: 'Fabulous!" The program recounted the story of his influential career - from humble beginnings in his South Philadelphia row home (735 Pierce Street) to concert stages around the world! Today, Charlie is still doing what he loves best. His reputation among his peers as a stellar, multi-faceted singer and musician is such, that world famous rock stars regularly pay him tribute and volunteer to work with him.
In the fall of 2011, ABKCO Records released his latest CD: 'FOR THE LOVE OF CHARLIE!' produced by Al Kooper, who has recorded and produced the likes of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Among the artists performing with Charlie on the CD are: Graham Nash, (Crosby, Stills Nash & Young), Peter Noone (Herman's Hermits), Jimmy Vivino (guitarist & music director; Conan O'Brien Show), Craig Ross (keyboards; Lenny Kravitz) and Dennis Diken (drummer; Smithereens). "What an honor to have these people on my album, he says. "They don't need Charlie Gracie, but they love what I put down as a foundation years ago, and I'm humbled that these artists would want to perform with me."
In early 2012, Charlie was back on the national charts with a new hit single: BABY DOLL produced by Gary Lefkowith. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a front page story: "GRACIE BOUNCES BACK!" heralding the historical significance of an artist who was back on the Billboard Charts after a 50-year absence and perhaps the oldest of the roots rockers to achieve that honor! This feat even prompted a congratulatory call from Terry Stewart, President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
It is obvious why Charlie Gracie has lasted the course longer than most. He is an accomplished musician and an exceptional talent - a devoted family man who conducts himself as a gentleman both on stage and off. He is a credit to his industry. And what's next for this Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee? Is he ready to retire after more than six decades in the business? Hardly. "I'm getting started on my next album and I'm in the process of writing a book!" Charlie Gracie has only just begun to rock!
Charlie was voted into Great Britain's 'Rock & Roll Hall of Fame' (1998) created by "Now Dig This" Magazine. He was voted onto the Philadelphia Walk of Fame on the Avenue of the Arts in 2008. Charlie launched a weekly radio program in 2011 on Cruisin' 92.1 FM, WVLT: "A Fabulous Hour with Charlie Gracie!"
On Friday evening, November 16, 2012, Charlie Gracie was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's "Hall of Fame."
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Charlie Gracie
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