Jazz recording artist and trumpeter Willie Bradley Jr. has traveled the world performing, but he never forgets about the nurturing and training he received in the city where he grew up.
Bradley, the son of Willie and Mary Catherine Bradley of Orangeburg, grew up on McMichael Street. The 55-year-old now resides in Fayettleville, North Carolina, with with his wife, Karren, and their three children, Kyle, 26, Kameron, 25 and Kristen, 15.
The accomplished musician, who has just released his second CD, "Going With the Flow," will perform the National Anthem this Sunday, Nov. 5 at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, prior the Carolina Panthers' game against the Atlanta Falcons.
The performance at a National Football League game will be a dream come true for him, Bradley said.
"It's something that I always dreamed of doing. Somebody took a clip of me playing the National Anthem at one of my previous shows at a Chamber of Commerce engagement in Fayetteville. I then sent it to every NFL team, and the Carolina Panthers were the first ones to choose me to play it," he said.
"It just says that there's nothing that you can't do. You can't be afraid to take a chance. You never know unless you take a chance."
Bradley attended what was then South Carolina State College from 1980 to 1984, majoring in music education and performance. After leaving to play with a couple of corporate bands -- he also toured with famed jazz trumpeter and fellow South Carolina native Dizzy Gillespie in 1986 -- he came back to S.C. State and graduated in 1990.
"When we were at South Carolina State in the jazz ensemble, we had several people come through our school. Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Foster, Max Roach, Betty Carter, Nat Adderley, they all came through our school. So we had an opportunity to play with these musicians, and they would all choose somebody that they wanted to study with them during the summer," Bradley said.
"I got chosen by Dizzy Gillespie. I studied with him for a little while. I did play with a couple of corporate bands like Stray Fox out of Florida. I did that for about three or four years and then I came back home and finished college."
He has lived in Fayetteville for the past 27 years.
Bradley recalled growing up in Orangeburg, and attending Belleville Middle and Orangeburg-Wilkinson High schools.
"I actually started playing in the middle school band. Mr. James B. Hunt was my very first band director. I started liking music when I was very young. My dad had every kind of album you can name in our living room," he said.
"We used to listen to the albums on Saturday because we had to clean up our house and we had to iron our clothes for the week. And before we could go outside, me and my siblings had to have our clothes ironed. We couldn't look at TV, but they would let us listen to the stereo."
Bradley said they enjoyed the sounds of everyone from Dizzy Gillespie, Herb Alpert and Cannonball Adderley to Lena Horne and Aretha Franklin.
"You name it, my dad had it. We grew up in the living room mimicking these people with broom handles and mop handles," he said, laughing. "I've always had a concept of music and quality music, and it just stayed with me through the years."
Bradley said his high school band director, Dwight McMillan, had a major impact on helping him get to where he is today musically.
"He really changed my whole outlook on music. Mr. McMillan was very instrumental in where I'm at today, and it's because he was a saxophone player. It was the very first year at our high school that we had a jazz ensemble and it was my senior year," he said.
"It was amazing when you see a band director that can play the saxophone like that. I knew right then after hearing him what I wanted to do. Mr. McMillan had us prepared for our auditions for all the colleges as seniors, and I got a music scholarship at South Carolina State."
He won a spot on S.C. State's jazz ensemble as a freshman and also participated in the Marching 101 band.
"So we had what we needed. I can honestly say that I've been very well trained through band directors, and the education was priceless coming through South Carolina State University," Bradley said.
He has played for RJ & The Original James Brown Band and with several other noted musicians, including Ronnie Laws, Alex Bugnon, members of Sly & the Family Stone, Marion Meadows, Walter Beasley and Gerald Albright. He has also opened for jazz musician David Sanborn.
"I've been in some great company," said Bradley, who released his first CD, "Another Day & Time," in 2014. He's particularly proud of that project because it was borne out of his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, he said.
"I had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for many years. I had been to rehab four times and had about six DWIs and totaled about three cars. I had been wanting to be where I'm at now years ago, but I was really struggling and didn't know how to get there," said Bradley, who almost let his frustrations get the best of him.
"I was drinking and drugging and what used to be recreation had become a habit I couldn't shake," he said. "After getting across that hurdle, my whole perspective and outlook on life changed and I decided that I was going to go for it. A lot of musicians drink and drug because of the fear of success and the fear of failure. I was there" before finally deciding to let go of fear.
"The Lord put something in me that wouldn't allow me to give up anymore. Basically, I'm living in another day and time in my life because my whole perspective in life has changed. I don't believe that there's anything that I can't do. I work hard at what I do, and that's why I named my first CD 'Another Day & Time,'" Bradley said.
Bradley released his second CD on Oct. 28 at Fayetteville State University. "Going With the Flow" is produced by prominent songwriter and producer Preston Glass.
"He is responsible for producing and writing for Kenny G, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, George Benson, Tevin Campbell, Lionel Richie, just a host of people," said Bradley, who wrote the CD's title track.
"The song is is just a spin-off from 'Another Day & Time.' I'm just going with the flow. My momentum is really, really flowing right now."
The CD offers an eclectic mix of musical genres, including not just contemporary jazz, but smatterings of pop and R&B.
"It covers a wide spectrum of music. It's got a remake of Sly & the Family Stone's 'Running Away' on it. It's got an R&B soul tune featuring Gerald Alston from The Manhattans. ... It's just different. I was able to do what I wanted to do on this by using other producers," Bradley said. "I wanted to give some other producers a chance and to basically have something different than what everyone else is putting out."
"In the Meantime," which features the soulful sounds of Gerald Alston, is the first single released from "Going With the Flow."
"It's playing on over 800 radio stations across Europe right now. Some of the stations have already started playing it here in the U.S. It's already debuted in Europe on the Soul/R&B Group charts at #36 on Oct. 3," Bradley said.
His ability to explore different things musically is what helps to set him apart from other artists, he said.
"I'm very professional, and there's not a whole lot of trumpet players out there that we can choose from. And I'm not afraid to try something different," Bradley said.
He said he plays about 40 to 42 shows a year, performing for events ranging from fraternity and sorority engagements to major jazz festivals across the country and some private engagements as well.
Bradley is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Kappa Kappa Psi, a national honorary band fraternity, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America, an American collegiate social fraternity for men with a special interest in music.
He said he considers music a "soother of the soul," which has "definitely been the healing force for me."
Trumpet playing is something no one can take away from him, the musician said.
"It's who I am. I remember when my mom took me to school to get the instrument. She had made me promise her that I would never quit playing. Back in those days when you were given the opportunity to play in the band, you didn't take it lightly," Bradley said.
"Something was gonna go lacking in your household. It was a luxury. We didn't grow up with a whole lot. So I promised her that I would never quit playing. I'm still playing right now today, and I love it," he said.
"It's great when you can do something like this and get paid -- and real well -- to do it. I'm just free in my soul, I'm free in my spirit. I live for this."
Bradley added, "I would like to thank the people of Orangeburg for their support. I always represent Orangeburg real well. No matter where I'm at, I know where my home is."
Bradley's music can be found on his website at www.williebradley.net.