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NOLA 300 Music

The Captain of Moving Crowds: DJ Captain Charles

Over thirty years, the DJ has impacted local music as much as traditional musical royalty

While growing up in the 1960s in the Magnolia Projects, DJ Captain Charles says, “I heard music all day, every day.” But despite being immersed in music, including his mom’s favorites like Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, his successful career making local crowds dance to top R&B, soul, hip-hop, and New Orleans music came as a surprise to him. “I never planned to be a DJ,” he said, recalling that he originally intended to go into the military.

“In 1981 and 1982, I was the MC and DJ in between sets for the Unique Pierre band,” he explains of his early career. During the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, he performed on his own for the first time at a club called Two Brothers, located on Magazine Street at Peniston Street. The club hosted a diverse black and Hispanic crowd, and the club’s owner, “a woman named Gloria, from Cuba,” would give him the top salsa records of the time. It was a genre-bending experiment that inspired him to live the advice that he passes on to younger DJs today: “You have to grow with your crowd.”

And Captain Charles’ crowds have grown with him, following him from neighborhood lounges to residencies at major casinos and restaurants to the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. In a city that reveres local legends and stars, over thirty years he has impacted local music as significantly as traditional musical royalty such as Ellis Marsalis, Irma Thomas, and Walter “Wolfman” Washington.

“I broke Rebirth Brass Band’s ‘Do Whatcha Wanna’ when it came out [in 1989],” he remembers. “I was the first to play it in the clubs.” He continues to feature local music in his sets, explaining that “the songs that move the crowd the most today are the old-school bounce songs. Songs by people like Partners-N-Crime, MC T Tucker, DJ Jubilee.”

He cites the Neville Brothers’ Neville-ization: Live at Tipitina’s (1984) as a personal favorite, since “they were influenced by Mardi Gras music.” He also remembers his own early Carnival memory. “During Mardi Gras time, as a kid, you were allowed to go into a bar room. And all the old people would say, ‘Go ’head and dance!’ And you danced for everyone, to James Brown, Jackson 5, Jackie Wilson.” Thankfully, Captain Charles continues to move crowds, making everyone go ’head and dance.

 

Hailing from New Orleans, Melissa A. Weber is an artist-scholar and MA candidate in musicology at Tulane University. A respected crate digger and authority on funk, soul, and disco, she’s been featured in Nelson George’s Finding the Funk documentary and the book Dust and Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting. As the award-winning and trailblazing DJ Soul Sister, she’s hosted “Soul Power,” the longest-running rare groove show in the United States, on WWOZ FM for over two decades. She has also performed with artists ranging from George Clinton and Bootsy Collins to Questlove and Erykah Badu. As a writer and historian, she has contributed pieces to Wax Poetics and Red Bull Music Academy, among others, and has presented papers at the Experience Music Project’s Pop Music Conference and various academic conferences.