Charlie Wilson has been an indelible force in the music industry for more than 50 years.
Wilson, 71, who made his name as the former lead vocalist of the Gap Band, is an R&B legend with 13 Grammy nominations. Now, he'll join an elite club of entertainers when he receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Jan. 29.
Uncle Charlie, as he’s known, has been able to sustain the rare feat of making hit music throughout decades and has built a relevance with younger generations of artists who are eager to work with him.
He credits one man for his reemergence in the early 2000s: Snoop Dogg.
“It was Snoop. ... He started calling me Uncle Charlie, then everybody started calling me Uncle Charlie,” Wilson told Yahoo Entertainment. “When I got on with him, everybody wanted me — all of the hip-hop community — and it started [again] from there.”
Since he first paired up with Snoop Dogg to work on the rapper’s 1996 album Tha Doggfather, Wilson has since collaborated with a wide array of younger artists, including Tyler, the Creator, T.I., Nas, Pitbull, Justin Timberlake and Khalid. You can hear his voice on tracks like Snoop’s 2002 hit “Beautiful” and across several tracks on Kanye West's 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, including “All of the Lights” and "Monster.”
Despite his collaborations with a new generation of artists, though, Wilson has made sure to keep his signature sound for himself.
In October 2005, Wilson released Charlie, Last Name Wilson. The album peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200. In 2009, it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, meaning it sold more than 500,000 copies.
“That was the first one. That was the first one that brought me by myself. [R. Kelly] wrote that record, and it was amazing,” Wilson said.
‘They keep coming’
Wilson says he loves making music and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Both young artists and established hitmakers continue to call him to collaborate.
“They keep coming. … They are still coming and asking me, can I get on with them? I am so honored by that,” he said. “I'm getting called to get back on radio with a 20-year-old. That's amazing. I think that's brilliant, and I'm so happy about that. I'm so pleased and so grateful for that.”
His newest collaboration is on Vultures, a joint project from Ty Dolla Sign and Kanye West that is expected to roll out in three volumes, with the first dropping on Feb. 9.
“Ty came to me and said he wanted me to do some records with him, and I did. He's a genius. He knows what he wants and he was producing it. He wasn’t sitting back, letting me sing a lot of the stuff," Wilson explained. "I enjoyed it a lot. He's smart."
Walk of Fame moment
In 1974, a pre-fame Charlie Wilson was walking along Hollywood Boulevard, outside of the iconic TCL Chinese Theater, admiring the stars on the sidewalk.
He wondered aloud, “Wow, what if I can get one of these?” Out of nowhere, a stranger spoke.
“This lady said, ‘That ain't impossible.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, but I'm talking about me.’ I didn’t have hit records or nothing. She said, ‘Yeah, I'm talking about you. That's not impossible. Maybe improbable, but not impossible.’… I just kept on walking,” he said.
“I never forgot this woman said that to me … and then I ended up with the Gap Band, just was selling a lot of records and all of that. From that, to me, putting out records and ... making so many number ones by myself. It just brought me full circle from where the lady told me, It's not impossible to get a star.”
On Jan. 29, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is honoring Wilson with the 2,770th star on the Walk of Fame at 6201 Hollywood Blvd. in the recording category. Jimmy Jam Harris, Babyface and Snoop Dogg will attend the ceremony.
“Charlie Wilson’s timeless music has brought joy to millions across generations,” Walk of Fame producer Ana Martinez said in a statement. The ceremony is “a testament to his extraordinary talent, resilience and unwavering dedication to his craft.”