Charlie Smalls began giving piano concerts at age 5. He received a scholarship from the Henry Street Settlement and entered Julliard when he was 11. He graduated from Julliard in 1961. Smalls attended the High School of Performing Arts.
He was a pianist with the New York Jazz Repertory Company and toured with Hugh Masekela, Harry Belafonte, Esther Morrow, and others.
He entered the Air Force and played with the Air Force Band, where his greatest accomplishment was writing a Christmas carol for John F. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline.
He began working on The Wiz in 1970 and gained national attention.
Smalls had been writing the score for Miracles, based on the H.G. Wells novel The Man Who Could Work Miracles. He recorded several songs with Geoffrey Holder and the Harlem Boys Choir.
Smalls died on August 27, 1987 during surgery for a burst appendix in a Belgium hospital. He was 43.