Candy Foster - Entertainer


At the tender age of 86, Gerald "Candy" Foster knows a thing or two about how to keep a crowd happy.  Foster, who was born and raised in Danville, is one of the most recognizable names in R&B and blues classics in Central Illinois.  He's played scores of clubs, halls, bars, hotels and stages big and small all over the state, but especially in Central Illinois.  He became interested in music watching his mother rehearse for her own gigs in their Danville home when he was a young child.  Later, Foster would spend afternoons after school in the local record store listening to everything from opera to R&B.
"I'd hide the opera record I loved in the country music section so I knew where to find it.  I memorized that record," Foster recalls.
Shy by nature, Foster played basketball and football. His dad, a Navy man who played semi-professionally in the Negro Leagues, encouraged sports.  But Foster blossomed when he sang. He performed du-wop on street corners with friends to impress girls. In high school, he started forming singing groups.

Foster moved to Champaign in 1959 with his new wife and worked at restaurants to keep the bills paid for his growing family.  By the time the Vietnam War was underway, Foster had established a good reputation with his band The Soul Brothers. When he was selected for the draft, Foster was eager to serve.  But the Army rejected him because he had three children.  Instead, a high-ranking official at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul called.  Foster was booked with The Soul Brothers to perform for soldiers who had had enough of the weekend entertainment geared to whites.  Foster and The Soul Brothers spent much of the rest of the war performing at military bases from Illinois to Ohio to Michigan.
"It was my way of giving back," Foster says.

Foster and his band spent days on the road performing all over Illinois and beyond as part of the so-called "Chitlin' Circuit" in the 60's and 70's; a reference to Black artists and bands who performed at small, out-of-the way venues for low fees because they were not welcome at establishments for whites.  The "Chitlin' Circuit" was a major performance outlet for both local and famous stars of the era, including Ike and Tina Turner, BB King and many others.  Throughout the years, Foster and his groups have opened for artists including King, Koko Taylor,  Tony Zimora and others.

Foster spent much of his professional life working for state and municipal government in various jobs.  He has also owned his own businesses, including Candy's Lounge, a bar that Foster operated in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Champaign.  Foster says he has never pursued songwriting.   He knows entertaining and working a crowd is what he does best.
Retired, he is not.

Foster now fronts his biggest band yet, called Shades of Blue, complete with backup singers and a full horn section.
"Band leaders around here told me I wouldn't be able to have a full band and make money.  They said, 'Foster, that's a dream world!'"
 "And I said, 'I know it is, but that's what I want!'"

Foster and Shades of Blue perform at many venues across the region, and play for charities and fundraisers.  Foster has established the Candy Foster Scholarship at Parkland College for students who want to pursue a career in the arts. He's received numerous awards and recognition for his charitable work and achievements, including the keys to the cities of Champaign and Urbana.

And then there's his family. He has 14 children and...well...he's lost count of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Suffice to say, family reunions are big.  He also enjoys traveling with his wife.
Foster says he'll perform as long as he has a place to do music "the way Candy Foster does it."