Former Gap Band singer Charlie Wilson “went from rags to riches to rags, then to the curb, then to homeless, and back to No. 1.” Though the musician had a hit with his retro-soul comeback “Uncle Charlie,” his career recently has been the least of his worries. Last year he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Now in remission, the grateful artist is giving back by headlining the Lazarex Cancer Foundation’s Bridge to Hope benefit at Fort Mason on Sept. 26.
Why get involved with Lazarex? Well, for one, I’m a cancer survivor myself. And I was scared to death when the doctor told me I had cancer, so now I figure I have to get up and do something about it. Because now it’s not all about me. I had no idea that this disease affects one in six American men, and one in three African American men. And I do a lot of performing, so it was time for me to start informing. And Lazarex was another cause where I thought, “Hey – if I can help, I will!”
Did you keep your sense of humor when you were diagnosed and say ‘Doc – you really dropped a bomb on me there?” Ha! After I picked my face up off the floor! But the doctor said, “The good news is we caught it early enough that we can treat you.” So I’m in the hospital and they’re getting ready to give me the anesthesia, when I notice the doctor has something in his hand. And he suddenly says, “Hey, man – why didn’t you tell me you were the Charlie Wilson from the Gap Band? Can you give me an autograph?” So I signed an autograph for my doctor as they were putting me under. And I found out later that, while the procedure was going on, he was blasting the Gap Band’s greatest hits CD in the operating room, “Bomb” and everything.
Seems like you got busier afterward. You just performed for our troops in the Middle East? Yeah. I was in Kuwait, Mosul, Baghdad. And a lot of the kids hadn’t heard of me, but they were like ‘Man! I am such a fan of yours now!’ And we heard rat-a-tat, BOOM, all night long, and I said ‘What’s all the shooting about?’ Duh. We weren’t out on some practice range.
Well, you survived cancer. But more remarkably, you survived disco! It’s amazing. We cut through that crap in ’79. And we really tried to do disco music, but it just didn’t work for us. We needed to get back to what we knew, what we really loved to do. And so we did.
IF YOU GO
Featuring Charlie Wilson, Brian McKnight, A Taste of Honey, Maxine Nightingale and Zakiya Hooker
Where: Great Meadow, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 26
Tickets: $38 to $185