AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 31 YEARS
Peter Diana/Post-Gazette Chizmo Charles in March 1992.
From 1999: City's favorite blues singer swings and sings for the record From 2003: Charles has the blues on first release from Decade Records By Scott Mervis / PIttsburgh Post-Gazette
If you frequent blues clubs, there may have been that time when Chizmo Charles ending up singing at your table, and maybe even in your lap. As longtime fan Steve Acri said, “Chizmo knew how to work a room.” In his 60-plus years as a singer, earning him the informal title of “Pittsburgh’s Elder Statesman of the Blues,” Chizmo Charles worked all of them, adding a comedian’s touch to the blues.
He died Tuesday night of cancer at age 86. The Lawrenceville native, born Charles Anderson, got his start as a jitterbug dancer, and he was one of the city’s best. But, inspired by Pittsburgh singer and bandleader Billy Eckstine, he decided in his 20s to take the mike. Fittingly, the first song he ever did, with the Eugene Betts band, was B.B. King’s “Everyday I Have the Blues.”
One night, doing “A Cottage For Sale,” everything clicked. “I was always interested in singing,” he told the Post-Gazette in 1999. “I used to sing along with records. But that night, I really connected with the audience. They were smiling and having fun. That’s a wonderful feeling.”
Early on, he sang with such groups as The Debonnaires and Unity, which played country and polka. “I’ve probably performed at more Polish weddings than any black man in this country,” he said.
FROM THE ARCHIVES (APRIL 3, 1992) Found on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette powered by Newspapers.com He was known as a singer unbound by the stage. He had a long mike cord and regardless of where you were sitting, he could end up serenading you. “He was so charming,” said blues singer Shari Richards, who performed with him many times. “He would be in the middle of the song, with that 50-foot cord, and you’d know he was coming for you, and he’d sing to you. I would laugh until I cried when he did it.”
Some jazz players thought he was too much of a caricature, but organist Gene Ludwig, for one, gave him a chance. His local following flourished in the ’80s when he hooked up with the guys who would become the Mystic Knights of the Sea. He also held court at a regular Wednesday night gig at the popular Shadyside club The Balcony. James Dougherty Jr., guitarist for the Mystic Knights, first gigged with him at Gene’s Bar on Saw Mill Run Boulevard. “The whole place fell in love with him,” he said. “Chizmo had so much more talent than any of the jazz people seemed to know. I could hear it.”
Mr. Anderson and the Knights were featured in a local beer commercial doing “Spread Yourself Around,” from the album “Live Blues Breakout,” and they opened here for the likes of B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter. In 1998, Mr. Anderson made his solo recording debut, at the ripe age of 70, with the album “Up All Night” on the Loose Leaf label, with Mr. Dougherty producing and writing half of the songs. “He was the funniest guy in the entire world. He could bring levity to any situation, but he always had your back,” said Charles Anderson III, 32, one of Mr. Anderson’s 11 grandchildren from six kids. “I’m a musician and I’m named after him. I have a career because of him. He was always there. He set me up well.”
He knew well what it was like to work his way up through a scene as a self-taught musician. “I’ve had a lot of help along the way,” he told the PG. “If I knew half as much music as some of these musicians have forgotten, I’d be a bad dude. But that’s all right, because I’m going to keep on swinging and singing until they throw dirt over me.” Funeral arrangements had not been finalized Wednesday. Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg First Published April 22, 2015 1:06 PM. Try the suggestions below or type a new query above.
All are blessed to have experienced this talented, beautiful man.
From Tony Anderson:
A tribute to my grandfather....thank you Pittsburgh!
The memorial service information is as follows:
Saturday, May 2, 2015 at the Rapp Memorial Funeral Home
10940 Frankstown Rd., Pittsburgh PA 15235
The family will be greeting quest from 4 - 6 pm the memorial service will follow.
Memorial reception TBA...for more information please call 412-266-2208.
Hats off to Mr. Chizmo Charles.. loved by so many. I recall being new on the scene as a singer ... I asked him for advice. And his reply to me was "keep on doing what you're doing" he then asked me -- "do you have a music stand?" I replied - no. He went out to his car .. and came back with a music stand and said "here".. that was a sign of inspiration for me -- that he felt I would be worthy of putting it to good use. I will treasure that in my memory bank forever. Thank you, Mr. Chizmo Charles, you are one of the greatest for all times.