Local musician maintains strong fanbase

by Emily Hoover | ehoover@flagler.edu
Photos By Phillip C. Sunkel

For Charlie Brown, Lincolnville local and full time musician, music serves as both a physical and mental outlet.

“Music helps you with your mind,” he said, smiling. “Music is everything, it’s all around us. It brings us together as people, and that’s why I keep playing. I have a good time.”

Brown, 74, plays keyboard in the garden that unites Crucial Coffee and Gourmet Hut, on the corner of Cuna and Charlotte Streets. He said has been playing weekends for two years at this location.

He said he also played on Hypolita Street near Columbia restaurant for four years before moving to the garden.

“I really like it here,” he said, pointing at trees and waving at tourists, “because I meet people from all over the world and that’s great.”

Brown, who was born in Baton Rouge, L.A. and spent most of his childhood in Jackson, Miss., has been playing music for over 40 years. With inspiration from B.B. King, who he met in Jackson at the age of 16, Brown picked up the guitar for the first time.

“He is a friend,” Brown said. “I have a lot of admiration for him and he inspires me. He told me to get my own guitar and stop using his. So I did.”

In addition to meeting King, Brown left the south and relocated to New York, where he opened the Comet Club in the Bronx. He became acquainted with R&B vocal group The Manhattans and soul singers Smokey Robinson and Al Green, who frequently performed at his club.

Brown’s love of music followed him when he and his wife Olivia, 70, moved to St. Augustine in 1974. He said that he is passionate about all music and does not confine himself to specific genres.

“I play anything that’s a hit,” Brown said. “I like country, pop, rock and blues—if they’ve got something I like, I will play it. I listen to the radio all the time, searching for new songs, looking for something I like.”

Some of Brown’s covers include “My Girl,” “Satisfaction,” “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Leroy Brown.” He said that his favorite instrument is the guitar but plays keyboard when playing solo because he likes the sound and rhythm of the guitar when paired with bass and drums.

While Brown has played with doo-wop singer Les Cooper and True Gospel Singers during his time in St. Augustine, he also worked as a certified nursing assistant at Bayview Nursing Home and owned a lawn service. In fact, Gourmet Hut owner Wendy Relph said that Brown often comes by to mow the grass in her garden.

Although he said he occasionally plays, dances and parties, Brown likes the freedom he has when playing outside. He said he can play loudly, without disrupting anyone and can work closely with his favorite inspiration-people.

“I like tourists, especially the kids,” he said. “I love taking pictures, I like hearing stories from children. I’ve never met a person who wasn’t nice.”

Brown’s fans love him too. He said that trolley drivers wave to him as they tote their passengers around the old city and police officers often watch him play a few songs. Local Jodie Morgan said that her daughters, Rachel and Savannah, look forward to seeing Brown in the garden each weekend.

“Charlie Brown is wonderful,” Morgan said. “My girls mention Charlie in their prayers. My husband [Andrew] and I have had our first dances [with our daughters] to Charlie’s music.”

Despite complaints from street musicians and vendors about the ordinance that prohibits performers on St. George Street, Brown said that talent is more important than monetary success.

“The businesses are paying the rent…someone has to listen to them,” he said. “I think [the city] should have managers who survey the musicians, making sure they are playing good enough and not too loud. Tourists miss the music on St. George, but we need musicians who can play or are willing to learn and not people who just want to make money.”

As seasons change and tourists—as well as transient musicians—come and go, Brown seems comfortable where he is.

“It’s been like a vacation since I’ve been [in St. Augustine],” he said, sitting beneath his colorful umbrella, fingers itching the keys of his keyboard. “This town is all about education and crime is almost zero. It’s really the kids that keep me going, though. You have to do something and I’m doing what I love.”

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