All mouth, no action.” “Talk is cheap.” “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hear me.”
Quotes like these are easy to say…..until you become wounded by someone’s carelessly-spoken words. Sometimes it’s an ill-timed joke, other times a piercing verbal barb wrapped in the guise of “bless your heart.” And then there are insults stemming from prejudice that lodge in your memory as they poke holes in your self-esteem.
That’s what a young student experienced when he enrolled in Musical Theory at OK’s Langston University. His college professor, “Mr. B,” clashed against his unconventional approach and later, told the student that he “wasn’t going to be nothing in life” and someday, would “end up in an alley.”
Eventually, one of Professor B’s predictions came true; for a time, his former student did find himself homeless and addicted to alcohol and drugs. But faith in himself and his Creator helped the man to bounce back from ‘nothing,’ get sober, tap back into his genius and continue to create music that millions around the world love listening to. That former student is the legendary Charlie Wilson, the soul singer, songwriter and performer who debuted in a trio of brothers from Tulsa, OK., known as The Gap Band (as pictured, Charlie Wilson, Robert Wilson, Ron Wilson).
He shared that painful anecdote in his 2015 best-selling memoir, I Am Charlie Wilson, and decided for the first time to incorporate his humble beginnings into song to inspire others. For Wilson, In It To Win It isn’t just a CD title, it’s his personal mantra.
“I’ve been in some dark places,” Wilson said recently by phone. The 63-year-old is currently on the road with American Idol winner Fantasia and solo performer/New Edition member, Johnny Gill (the In It to Win It Tour stops in Dallas on March 19). “I always wanted to create songs to explain what happened to me in my life, to talk about God and allow people to learn about my journey by reading between the lines. I heard Beyonce say once that she isn’t good at talking one-on-one…..I’m the same way. But I’m opening up this time around.”
It can be hard to believe that the church-raised son of a preacher man and choir director, whose distinctive vocals fueled enduring group hits like “Outstanding” and “Early In The Morning,” started believing naysayers like Professor B and found solace in the contents of a crack pipe. But Wilson poured the pain from those trials into songs like “Smile For Me,” a duet with another performer recently experiencing hard times, Robin Thicke. “All of us go through a lot,” Wilson says, “and some of us don’t know how to smile as we do it. But something as simple as smiling at someone who’s going through the same things could start a chain reaction.”
Not that he’s solely focused on heartbreak; other songs like “Good Time,” “I’m Blessed” and the title track are meant to remind fans, and himself, that being here to ‘get there’ is what makes life so special and his successes as a man and musician that much sweeter.
“Remember that line from the movie Forrest Gump, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get’?” Wilson says with a chuckle. “I’m still growing and I’m still evolving, so what I’ve learned is that sometimes, people don’t know that the journey is the best part. I hope that everyone will have fun as they wrap their arms around the messages in my music. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us, so I thank God for the new day as I wake up, then I walk tall and stand strong.”