Bobby Charles
Bobby Charles was an American singer-songwriter
Singer-songwriters are musicians who write, compose and sing their own musical material including lyrics and melodies. As opposed to contemporary popular music singers who write their own songs, the term singer-songwriter describes a distinct form of artistry, closely associated with the...


An ethnic Cajun
Cajuns are an ethnic group mainly living in the U.S. state of Louisiana, consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles...

, Charles was born as Robert Charles Guidry in Abbeville, Louisiana
Abbeville, Louisiana
Abbeville is a town in and the parish seat of Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, United States, 150 miles west of New Orleans. The population was 12,257 at the 2010 census...

 and grew up listening to Cajun music
Cajun music
Cajun music, an emblematic music of Louisiana, is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada. Cajun music is often mentioned in tandem with the Creole-based, Cajun-influenced zydeco form, both of Acadiana origin...

 and the country and western music
Country music
Country music is a popular American musical style that began in the rural Southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from Western cowboy and folk music...

 of Hank Williams. At the age of 15, he heard a performance by Fats Domino
Fats Domino
Antoine Dominique "Fats" Domino, Jr. is an American R&B and rock and roll pianist and singer-songwriter. He was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Creole was his first language....

, an event that "changed my life forever," he recalled.

Charles helped to pioneer the south Louisiana musical genre known as swamp pop
Swamp pop
Swamp rock is a musical genre indigenous to the Acadiana region of south Louisiana and an adjoining section of southeast Texas. Created in the 1950s and early 1960s by teenaged Cajuns and black Creoles, it combines New Orleans-style rhythm and blues, country and western, and traditional French...

. His compositions include the hits "See You Later, Alligator", which he initially recorded himself as "Later Alligator", but which is best known from the cover version
Cover version
In popular music, a cover version or cover song, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording of a contemporary or previously recorded, commercially released song or popular song...

 by Bill Haley & His Comets
Bill Haley & His Comets
Bill Haley & His Comets was an American rock and roll band that was founded in 1952 and continued until Haley's death in 1981. The band, also known by the names Bill Haley and The Comets and Bill Haley's Comets , was the earliest group of white musicians to bring rock and roll to the attention of...

; and "Walking to New Orleans
Walking to New Orleans
Walking to New Orleans is a 1960 song by Bobby Charles, written for and recorded by Fats Domino.Domino was a hero of Charles. Domino had previously recorded the Charles tune "Before I Grow Too Old"...

", written for Fats Domino. His songwriting record in the UK charts reads 7 hits, 3 top tens with 75 weeks spent on the chart.

"(I Don't Know Why) But I Do
(I Don't Know Why) But I Do
" But I Do" is an R&B song written by Paul Gayten and Bobby Charles , and performed by Clarence "Frogman" Henry. It was Henry's biggest U.S. hit, reaching #4 in early 1961. The B-side on the single release was "Just My Baby and Me".The song appears in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, and the 1999 film...

" was a 1950s classic that Charles composed which Clarence "Frogman" Henry had a major hit with and which was on the soundtrack to the 1994 film Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is a 1994 American epic comedy-drama romance film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise...

. His composition "Why Are People Like That?" was on the soundtrack to the 1998 film Home Fries.

Because of his south Louisiana-influenced rhythm and blues
Rhythm and blues
Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated to R&B, is a genre of popular African American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a...

 vocal style, Charles has often been thought to be black, when in fact he is white.

On November 26, 1976, Charles was invited to play with The Band
The Band
The Band was an acclaimed and influential roots rock group. The original group consisted of Rick Danko , Garth Hudson , Richard Manuel , and Robbie Robertson , and Levon Helm...

 at their farewell concert, The Last Waltz
The Last Waltz
The Last Waltz was a concert by the rock group The Band, held on American Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco...

. Charles played "Down South in New Orleans", with the help of Dr. John
Dr. John
Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, Jr. , better known by the stage name Dr. John , is an American singer-songwriter, pianist and guitarist, whose music combines blues, pop, jazz as well as Zydeco, boogie woogie and rock and roll.Active as a session musician since the late 1950s, he came to wider...

 and The Band. The performance was recorded and released as part of the triple-LP The Last Waltz boxed set. The performance was not captured on film however, and did not appear in the film based on the concert with Charles only appearing briefly in the concert's final song, "I Shall Be Released
I Shall Be Released
"I Shall Be Released" is a 1967 song written by Bob Dylan.The Band played it on their debut album, Music from Big Pink , with Richard Manuel singing lead vocals, and Rick Danko and Levon Helm harmonizing in the chorus...

" (he is largely blocked from view during the song). That song, sung by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, film director and painter. He has been a major and profoundly influential figure in popular music and culture for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler and a seemingly...

 and pianist Richard Manuel
Richard Manuel
Richard George Manuel was a Canadian composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist, best known for his contributions to and membership in The Band....

, featured backup vocals from the entire ensemble, including Charles.

He co-wrote the song "Small Town Talk" with Rick Danko
Rick Danko
Richard Clare "Rick" Danko was a Canadian musician and singer, best known as a member of The Band.-Early years :...

 of The Band. "Promises, Promises (The Truth Will Set You Free)" was co-written with Willie Nelson.

Charles continued to compose and record (he was based out of Woodstock, New York
Woodstock, New York
Woodstock is a town in Ulster County, New York, United States. The population was 5,884 at the 2010 census, down from 6,241 at the 2000 census.The Town of Woodstock is in the northern part of the county...

 for a time) and in the 1990s he recorded a duet of "Walking to New Orleans" with Domino.

In September 2007, The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame
Louisiana Music Hall of Fame
The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame is an IRS certified 501 non-profit organization based in the state capitol of Baton Rouge, La., that seeks to preserve Louisiana's rich music culture and heritage and to further educate its citizens and people worldwide about the state’s unique role contributing...

 honored Charles for his contributions to Louisiana music with an induction.

Charles collapsed in his home near Abbeville and died on January 14, 2010.


  • John Broven, South to Louisiana: Music of the Cajun Bayous (Gretna, La.: Pelican Press, 1983).
  • Shane K. Bernard, Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).

External links

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