ATLANTA — Through the years, the Grammys have served as a backdrop for heart-tugging comeback stories. If Tulsa native Charlie Wilson should win either award he’s up for Sunday, it may mark one of the more unusual — a successful resurgence after a series of setbacks, including spending two years homeless.
"People really don’t know how I laid in the streets,” Wilson said. "From that to this, I cried when they told me I had a Grammy nomination. It still doesn’t seem real to me, because so many doors have been shut on me so many times.”
Wilson, nominated for best R&B album for "Uncle Charlie” and best male R&B vocal performance for "There Goes My Baby,” has one of the most recognizable voices in R&B. His crisp tenor anchored hits like "Outstanding” and "You Dropped the Bomb on Me” as lead singer of the GAP Band in the early 1980s. The group included brothers Ronnie and Robert and was among the nation’s top R&B acts.
Wilson says the GAP Band hit a roadblock in 1986 when they asked to split their publishing deal with their manager; Wilson claims the manager dropped them and then had them blackballed in the industry, threatening anyone who tried to sign them since the group was under contract with him.
"Everywhere we went, he ran interference,” Wilson said. "He threatened people. It was a sad situation. Drugs came a lot more. My brothers and I weren’t getting along that well.”
Slow cash flow and a cocaine and alcohol addiction drove Wilson to become homeless, as he slept in the alleys of Los Angeles’ famed Hollywood Boulevard between 1993 and 1995.
His cousin — a former drug addict — persuaded him to check into a 28-day program at a drug rehabilitation center. Wilson says he used cocaine there, until he was called into a social worker’s office.
"She asked me what I am going to do when I leave here?” he recalled. "That’s when I broke down and cried. I thought about it and knew I didn’t have nowhere to go. From there, I started to gather the tools that’s help me for the rest of my life.