Carl Bradley performed at venues across the country with stars such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. He made history in the Twin Cities with a prominent R&B group in the 1960s and he belonged to four bands inducted into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame.
But he maintained that his 13 children were his greatest accomplishment.
Bradley died April 1 of heart failure at his Brooklyn Center home. He was 73.
"I remember being in awe," said daughter Andrea York, Brooklyn Center, of seeing her father on stage.
Jesse Bradley, also of Brooklyn Center and the youngest of Bradley's children, said his father enjoyed listening to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald because he loved jazz and could sing soprano.
"Girls went crazy over his high voice. That's one of the reasons he went big here," Jesse Bradley said.
A 2012 publication from Minneapolis-based label Secret Stash Records, "Twin Cities Funk & Soul: Lost R&B Grooves From Minneapolis/St. Paul 1964-1979," featured Carl Bradley and two bands he joined, including Dave Brady and the Stars. It said the Stars was "one of the first R&B groups in the Twin Cities to find crossover success with white audiences."
"White Minnesotans would see the Temptations on television or buy their records, but they would never see R&B around town until Dave Brady and the Stars," Bradley told the publication. "We were the first people of color that many of these places had seen outside of television. They would come up to us and shake our hands and they wouldn't know how to say it, 'You're the first Black guys we've ever met!' That was pretty common to hear around Minnesota back then."
The Stars formed in 1965 in south Minneapolis. Bradley played keyboard, sax and organ before moving to vocals. In 1969, he joined Danny's Reasons with frontman Danny Stevens, who created the music venue the Depot — later known as First Avenue.
Stephen Landry, a longtime friend of Bradley's who handled equipment and sound on tours across the Upper Midwest, said some people they met didn't appreciate Black musicians coming to town and drawing local girls to their shows.
"There was one place, a pizza joint, we had to fight our way out of because some guys came in making trouble," Landry said.
"Carl was one of the nicest people I knew," he said. "He had time for anyone. He never made you feel less than when he spoke to you."
Bradley was born in Lufkin, Texas,and saw snow for the first time when he was adopted by relatives and moved to Minneapolis at the age of 6. After attending Central High School in Minneapolis, he declined college scholarship offers and instead launched his musical career with the Stars.
His son Galen Kruger, of Rochester, said most of Bradley's children inherited a love for music from their father, whom he called a "true rock star."
Bradley met his life partner, Debbie Fox, while performing with Free and Easy at Kelly's Depot Pub in downtown St. Paul in 1979. When she saw Bradley, she said, she knew he was "the man I want to marry some day."
"I went out every night just so I could see him play," she said. "He was one of a kind. He made people feel very special."
Bradley worked as a process server for 25 years for Civil Action Group. Family members said he was a man of faith who listened to the Rev. Charles Stanley every morning and enjoyed his four pets, fishing and golfing.
Besides Fox, York, Jesse Bradley and Kruger, Bradley is survived by daughters Patrice Doten, St. Paul; Nicole LaNasa, Wesley Chapel, Fla.; and Terra Dodds, Savage; sons Daryl LaBat, Omaha; Joseph Huber, Minneapolis; Carl Bradley Jr., Columbia Heights; Scott Wesolowski, Denver; Jason Spangler, Maple Grove; Hunter Boyce, West St Paul; and Anthony Longen, San Jose; numerous grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Services have been held.