Charlie Wilson, former Gap Band frontman, brings more funk and soul to Jazz in the Gardens

If you’re heading to Sun Life Stadium this weekend for the eighth-annual Jazz in the Gardens Festival, be sure not to miss Charlie Wilson, the former lead singer of the fabulous ‘70s funksters The Gap Band, which gave us the hits “You Dropped a Bomb On Me,” “Outstanding” and “Early in the Morning.” Funny thing, though: Wilson is just as successful as a solo artist, a rarity in today’s “what have you done for me lately?” musical zeitgeist. His silky smooth voice has inspired collaborations with current superstars including Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West and many more, and his solo albums have been nominated for several Grammy Awards.

Wilson talked to about the show, his new album, and why Snoop Dogg nicknamed him “Uncle Charlie.”

Q: What about Jazz in the Gardens draws you back?
The crowd and the energy at the show. I love Jazz in the Gardens – the audience comes to have a good time, and we try to exceed their expectations. This year is going to be great and I can’t wait to get there.

Tell us about the new album.
My new CD is “Love, Charlie,” which was released on Jan. 29. It’s doing very well. I debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B Album chart and No. 4 on the Top 200.  My first single, “My Love Is All I Have,” is No. 1 on the Urban A/C chart. This album is my way of giving back the love I received over the years from my wife, family and the fans, and most of all from God. There is so much going on in the world today that when we sat down to begin production, I realized the one thing that had been constant in my life through all the ups and downs was love, and I wanted to share that.

How much of it will we hear at your show?
I never tell what’s coming up in the show prior to hitting the stage. It takes all the fun out of it. I can promise that we’ll be doing “My Love is All I Have” with some other surprises. You’ll have to come out and see for yourself.

What can we expect from the rest of the show?
You can expect one heck of a good time. We come to party and give the audience their money’s worth.  When I say we, I mean my band, which is slammin’, and my dancers. Together we come to lay it down.  I know everyone will be dancing and having a great time all night.

You’ve collaborated with a bunch of current artists, including Kanye, Snoop Dogg, Lil Kim, Pharrell, etc. How important is it to stay contemporary?
I think it’s very important to stay contemporary. I have been blessed that my voice continues to be strong and recognizable. In addition to working with Kanye, Snoop, Pharrell, etc., I have a stable of writers, Wirlie Morris, Greg Pagani and Emile Ghantous, who work with me.  We work well together, bringing together a little old school and a little new school. I also believe that if you write about positive things and give positive energy in your music that you are contemporary.

Snoop Dogg nicknamed you “Uncle Charlie” – how did that come about?
Snoop was one of the first people to put me on when I was coming back into the music business about 13 years ago. That led to a close relationship between Snoop and his family and my wife and I.  We visit each other’s homes and talk about life situations. I’m an uncle to him and he’s a nephew to me.

What inspired you to travel to Iraq and Kuwait to perform for the troops?
I learned a lot during my four trips to Iraq and Kuwait. The troops go out every day in the field, and while they are there they never know if they are coming back. They put it on the line. The least I can do is give them an evening of fun and music. We traveled to numerous bases in Iraq and had some pretty scary things happen, but I’ll go back anytime they ask me.  It’s an honor to perform for them.

You’re just as successful solo as you were with the Gap Band – does that surprise you?
I won’t say it surprises me. My faith has always seen me through the good times and the bad times.  While I was not sure if it was going to work, my wife Mahin and my manager Michael Paran always believed in me, and that belief helped me forge ahead. Ten years ago, I couldn’t get a deal. They said I was washed up, and now look at me: No. 1 singles, No. 1 album debuts, Grammy nominations. I am so blessed.

What are you most proud of in your life?
A: That’s easy. I am most proud of my wife for sticking with me this long through the bad times and the good times. She is the joy in my life.

How often do you get to Miami, and what do you think of it?
I don’t get to Miami as much as I would like. I love the city and the people. I wish we could get there more often and have more time off to enjoy it. I’ll have to talk to my wife and work that out.