I had the privilege to interview the singer/songwriter and recording artist Charles Duke at Cheri in Harlem, and discuss what he loves the most; making music and performing for people at various venues in New York.
Charles Duke is a Harlem based singer/songwriter who writes music about the human condition and the human heart. Charles moved to Harlem from the south in June of 2012, and the reason he chose to move to Harlem is due to the original Harlem Renaissance between the end of World War I and the mid 1930’s. “Moving to New York was a faith walk, I never done anything like this before. I had one big suitcase and a sublet from a friend in Queens for half a month. I saved up as much as I could for four months before that”, he told me about his move to Harlem. Charles received his first piano lessons from his mother when his was very young, she asked him while he was riding with his mom in a “blue Chrysler mini-van” if he would like to take piano lessons, and then started playing at the local church, and went on to study with a private teacher, who introduced him to many styles and into production. Charles soon became obsessed with playing piano, but began singing much later.
What is integral to Charles music is that it “has to be true and honest”; the music has to be honest for him to relate to it. The main message that Charles wants to convey in his music is “a message of hope and love, and feelings that you can’t always put into words”. He feels words and melodies in a combination can reach across that gap where words alone fail. Charles experience in New York has been very seminal for him in the short time he has been here, “Its real” as he put it. Meeting so many different people and being a part of Harlem is such a wonderful experience for him. In one respect that his music has changed over time is that he is writing “more close from center”, and gaining a deeper understanding of himself and his feeling allows him to write more about himself rather than from the mindset of others. He told me that “before things was more or less black and white” but now after moving to Harlem discovered more grey areas than he could have ever imaged” in regards to his feelings and outlook on life as a whole.
What Charles enjoys most about his music is “transporting people to other places” and getting “behind the masks that people wear”, singing about true stories regarding people’s lives, and reaching the true heart of others, which moves and inspires him greatly. Working with inner-city children is something that Charles is very passionate about, teaching music and arts education to disadvantage youths is very important to him. The main themes that Charles pursues in his song writing are “love and relationships, spirituality, the connection to life and our connection to each other, and telling stories that capture the imagination.” During my conversation with Charles he recalled that during his youth was very shy, but he said that “whenever I walked into a room that had a piano in it, he felt like he had a friend, that made it easy for me, I had a skill, and that helped me a lot”. The scariest experience that Charles encountered was “The bus ride from the airport to the apartment upon arriving in New York, during that two hour ride his mind was racing. “Having people walking straight at me, and having to bob and weave around them”.
I asked Charles what was the most embarrassing moment in his life, his response was “I was working out in the gym in college on the treadmill listening to music, when I was done with my workout I stepped off the treadmill and on to the next treadmill that was still moving, because someone was still on it, I stumble down and my shorts get caught on the handrail and pulled them off”. Songs that have inspired Charles are “The impossible dream and greatest love of all”. Charles wants to have a profound impact on the world through his music, and his music is inspiring indeed. What people do not know about Charles Duke is that he is very sensual, something that is not very evident in his music. “I’m a very mellow guy, but I like to turn up every now and then in moderation, which is something that I enjoy. I like that, but many people don’t know that about me”.
Now it’s very hard to imagine Charles Duke getting angry, but I asked him what makes you angry? “Injustice makes me angry, especially injustice toward children, and human suffering, I don’t like to get angry very much. I feel many things can be solved by common sense, there is so much in the world and no one should be without. I try not to get angry too much because it’s a hard emotion to control”. Charles dream project is “to make great music with wonderful people with legends that inspire me, it’s ever evolving for me. I just want to collaborate with amazing people and make amazing music”.
Many people have compared Charles Duke with John Legend, so I asked him how he felt about that. “I really admire him, I thought that his last album was incredible, I love the way his career has evolved. There are a number of issues that he spoke out about, like social justice issue, I really respect that, and it would be great to be considered in his category, that’s a real honor”.
The best piece of advice Charles was ever given was when he first got here in Harlem is Embrace the journey, live every single day and know that you will get to the destination.” Charles Duke goal professionally is to reach as many people as possible, internationally on television and radio, and in large venues. Charles told me that the one thing he cannot do without is his family, “They keep me grounded and remind me where I came from. That’s really important to me”.
Charles Duke’s First EP “Blue Treble” was released in 2010, which included songs such as “Can You See”, “Not Gonna Quit” and “Cruise Control”. Charles Duke produced, wrote, arranged, performed, and recorded every song on the EP. Charles EP “Hello Christmas” Which he performed at Ashford & Simpsons “Sugar Bar” in December 2015, and The news inspired social justice EP “American Skin” featuring his hit single “Everybody wants to be Loved” are all on sale online on CD or download.
Charles Duke is currently performing “Musical Vibrations” presented by CHARLES DUKE and Friends every Wednesday in April 2016 for a one month residency at Cheri Harlem restaurant on 121st Street and Lenox Ave. Featuring a solo exhibit by Artist and Painter Rachel Natalie Rawlins. $10.00 donations suggested. All ticket proceeds and 10% of all art work purchased will be donated to Mind Builders creative art center in the Bronx for music scholarships for inner city children to receive quality arts education.