Singer-songwriter Jimmy Charles grew up involved in athletics, but left Maryland for Nashville to pursue a career in music. He has received radio play for four of his songs and has opened for such artists as Kip Moore and Kacey Musgraves all while being incredibly active with numerous charities. On September 1, Charles, who is the national spokesman for ZERO, released the touching single, "Superman," which was written to raise awareness about prostate cancer. Jimmy kindly took the time to talk about the single, his charitable involvement and more.
You grew up in Maryland, played football in college and earned a communications degree. How does music fit into the picture and when did it become the path you wanted to pursue?
I was always into athletics, but did music on the side, for myself. I was in chorus growing up, but I never took that super seriously. I started writing when I was fifteen and my dad taught me how to play the older country stuff, historic country roots, on the guitar. All of a sudden one day the clock strikes zero and I realize that I’m never going to put on a helmet and shoulder pads again. Something that was in the forefront of my life was suddenly gone and I had a huge void. That’s where music came in. I started to fill that void with music and the more I put it out here, the better of a response I was getting. It made me say “Hey, maybe I’ve got something here, so why not try something I love.” I tried out for Nashville Star along with forty thousand other people and made it to the top fifty. I never ended up on television, but I moved so far through that I really started to believe in myself. I wrote a song for a friend and his mom, who has MS, to dance to at his wedding. It was the first time I performed in front of 200 people. I was so nervous, but the response was incredible. Everyone was in tears and I saw that I could really move people with a song I wrote. It made me fall in love with music and believe in myself even more and the next thing you know I’m packing up and moving to Nashville, where I have been for about seven years.
And now you have a song out, “Superman,” which raises awareness for prostate cancer. What inspired the song and how did you connect with ZERO, the nationwide organization whose mission it is to end prostate cancer?
There’s a great story behind the song. I’ve done a lot of charity work over the years, I was at Chesapeake Urology Center in Baltimore and they work with ZERO, who are tied to thirty-seven prostate centers across the country. In Baltimore they knew me, watched my career and asked me to come back to perform at one of their [ZERO's] events. I did it, then they called me back and asked if it was possible to write a song to raise awareness for men to get their prostate checked. It was a very awkward question and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I wrapped myself around it. I read as much as I could and spoke with a man, Phil Shulka, who was a Stage 3 Gleason 10 survivor. He wasn’t supposed to make it. He wasn’t given much hope, but he battled through and he won. Now he is a mentor at Chesapeake Urology where he goes to bedsides and helps other men with cancer. We brought him to Nashville, set up in a writer’s room with myself and my friend Goose Gossett and we just listened to his stories for over an hour. It was an emotional experience, and when he finished we went to work and we came up with this song. As soon as we were done we knew we had a hit on our hands. We sent an acoustic version from the writer’s room to Chesapeake and they called us back crying. We recorded it and I sang it in front of 3,000 survivors and their families at one of their races, after which, everyone was coming up to me, hugging and thanking me. ZERO then asked me to be their national spokesman in the coming year and I said yes, but wanted the song to have a video because I knew the world needed to hear this song. It’s a song for prostate cancer, but not just for prostate cancer—it’s for anyone who has been affected by cancer, which is everyone. They agreed, we and we put a video together.
Prostate cancer doesn’t show symptoms and when it does, it’s too late. A lot of men think they’re healthy; they don’t go to the doctor to get checked or tell anyone they have prostate cancer. So the song acknowledges that men can feel strong like superman, but there is something that can kill you, it’s a matter of life or death and it’s not just about you. Some men suffer alone, and don’t even tell their families. We don’t want them to feel like have to hide or be alone. It’s nice for me as a younger man to be the voice for these men and bring awareness to it. It’s incredible to believe that 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and every nineteen minutes in the U.S. a man dies from it, which is more than breast cancer. Women have a great, strong voice and it’s more fun to talk about saving the tatas than it is to talk about the prostate, but you never hear about it.
Those statistics are quite eye opening.
You mentioned the video. It is incredibly moving. Were you involved with the treatment?
A good friend of mine directed and produced the video. We sat down, talked about it and I threw ideas at him. I chose all the actors including my mom, who plays the wife of the main character! I called her on Mother’s Day and told her I couldn’t buy her a house, and asked if she would like to be in my video. She said that other than having her two kids, this was the coolest thing she’s ever done. The main character, Tom Hooten, is an accomplished actor and he was perfect. So many things can make a video not seem real, but we had the right people and it all came together. You watch the video and say “Hey he’s a normal guy” and then all of sudden life takes a turn and that really could be anybody.
The video premiered on CMT, and they were blown away by response. It had 5000 shares, not views, in one day. It’s incredible how many people have seen it. It was the #1 video and I was the #4 searched artist next to Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift for a day or two, which was so cool to see.
Definitely. In addition to being the spokesman for ZERO, you are extremely active in giving back in other areas as well. It seems like that is an innate part of who you are.
Oh yeah, I’ve always been that way. I say I want to do as much charity work as I can without being a charity case myself. It is a lot of fun and so rewarding. This past Thanksgiving was the first time we did Gobble Gobble Give. We didn’t know how big it was going to be, but we ended up serving five hundred people. What makes Gobble Gobble Give different is that we have an assembly line of a hot meal, clothes, blankets and toiletries which we put in cars and trucks and hit the streets. We got out to certain areas in the city where we know there are many homeless, and handicapped homeless who cannot get to centers to get a meal. We stop on the side of the road to give them their packages, talk with them and give them love. It’s amazing.
You know, it’s a big thing to move away from your family and when I moved here, it was scary. I didn’t want to give it a shot for six months. I knew that if I was going to do it, there could not be a Plan B. Through it all I’ve always tried to do as much charity work as I can. I always said "God, if this is what you want me to do I will use this gift for good." I’ve always believed that you can be a person nobody knows and start making a difference. That’s what I’ve always done and now look where we are. This was a normal thing I was doing and it was just a blessing wrapped up.
All of the good you have been doing is coming back to you.
Three or four people throughout my career have always told me that I am very talented, but that wasn’t what was going to make me, what would make me is my heart because I believe in and care about people. People can sense that and that’s what will make me a success, so being here, it’s kind of cool to remember that. I was in Nashville three months and I was getting homesick. I realized that I wasn’t on vacation--this was my life and this was real; I didn’t know people and they didn’t care that I was in music because everybody in Nashville is in music. I wasn’t feeling so great and then I saw the CMT sign. I made the decision that whatever it takes, I was going to be on there. I posted that to Facebook and now six years later, that dream came true. It’s pretty awesome.
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Purchase "Superman" here