Friday, June 11, 2004
Our Loss --- Ray Charles, Living Legend
The Southern Music Network family, its affiliates, audience and sponsors,
gather together to mourn the inimitable genius of soul, blues and rock
& roll who held us together for decades: Ray Charles – the man,
the music and the voice.
It seems like he has been with us forever and, for most of us, he has.
But his 30-year old rendition of “America the Beautiful” was recirculated
into popular culture after The Terrible Day, causing him to declaim passionately,
“those terrorists got us on our knees? Where’s that at?” A
man who had many crosses to bear, many burdens to carry, did it all with
hope and cheerfulness for all the decades of his life, including those
for which we remember his hits. His graciousness was one quality
he never lost – the joy he demonstrated whether soloing on stage or in
the studio, or dueting with vocalists and musicians new or old, true or
fake, here today or here back when.
The spirit of Ray Charles lives on in his tremendous and prolific body
of work, from “Stella by Starlight” to “Ruby” to explorations into Gershwin’s
Porgy and Bess, dueting with that classy Cleo Laine on “Summertime.”
Another find by Atlantic Record’s Ahmet Ertegun! We take note that even
having won just about every award worth collecting over his long career,
earning a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and appearing all over
the world, Ray maintained his ever-fresh exhilaration in setting free the
harmony, thrill and oneness that wonderful music can bring to an audience,
uniting its members in thrall of unique artistry.
And let us not forget who comprised his audience: not just hip
us, but young and old, black, white, Latino, Asian, Aussies, Kiwis and
Brits, country and bluegrass peeps, rock and rollers, rappers, blues aficionados,
keyboard scholars and jest plain folks. He was a born performer,
and damn mo’scoscious at it. Middle-class viewers of Lifetime TV
got to hear him wail and croon every week when they watched “Designing
Women,” didn’t they? Sure, because “Georgia on My Mind,” as big a
hit as “Hit the Road Jack” and “What’d I Say,” was the theme song for that
show about “southern wimmen who get to talkin’ in a room.” Viewers
who doubtless didn’t remember Ray Charles and the Raylettes from the mid-60s,
when he broke our vulnerable hearts with mega-hit “I Can’t Stop Loving
You” or got us dancing with “I Got a Woman” (“ooheeee, way ‘cross town,
she crazee for me).” Viewers who might not have felt the wolf at
the door howlin’ as ferociously as Brother Ray did when he sang “Busted.”
Ray Charles was an artist who could give Little Richard a run for his
money in the “originator” of rock & roll category (“Mess Around” --
complete with barrelhouse piano), though he was also a torch singer on
the rarified, aint-many-in-a-century level of Judy Garland and Roy Orbison
-- check out “Born to Lose,” my peeps.
A musician’s musician – and as surely as our days are numbered, these
musicians do grow rarer every month -- Ray Charles died Thursday, June
10, 2004, at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He put Georgia
on our minds, kept it on the map, and we will miss him.
“.. to live in memories of a lonesome ….”
Time and Love, everybody,
New York City
@ Southern Music .Net
Charles was born in Albany, Georgia, September 23, 1930. When Ray was
six months old, his father, a carpenter, moved the family of three to
Greensfield, Florida. "It was a town no bigger than this room. I
guess." Asked about the handicap of being blind, he said, "Let's look
at it right. If you lost your sight as an adult, you would be a total
wreck. But I grew up blind and learned to live with it."
young child, Ray's vision was normal. At the age of six. he came down
with mumps or measles—he doesn't remember exactly what it was. But, for
lack of proper medical attention, complications set in . . . and
suddenly, for the six-year-old, the world was all darkness.
parents put him into a school for the blind at St. Augustine and that
was where his musical education began. He learned piano and saxophone.
It wasn't easy. Music was written in braille. He would memorize the
score, then go back to the instrument and learn to play it.
guess I ought to tell you what it was like at home then." he said. "The
neighbors would all scold my mother because of the way she treated me.
She was kind of scorned for the things she made a blind boy do." She
made him wash clothes, scrub, make up beds, iron, even cook.
that was normal to do, she put me to do," he explained. "She would tell
the neighbors. 'One of these days, I won't be with him to help him.'
She would tell me, 'You lost your sight, son, but you haven't lost your
mind.' She taught me independence. She didn't let me pity myself."
school, he got a solid foundation in music. The accent was on classical
compositions, but Ray listened to popular music on radio. "Sometimes I
would put aside my lessons and play for my comfort, my own joy. I'd put
the braille aside and try some boogie-woogie or something I'd heard Nat
With this natural love of music came the desire to be
a musician. It made sense to Ray, but not to others. "The kids called
me 'Roc' for my initials. They would say. 'Roc, you're supposed to
learn to make brooms, mops and chairs. You can't sing and play the
piano. Why don't you just make up your mind to do what other blind kids
Ray recalled, "I would go off and cry, but I came back
more determined than ever. Partly because of my mother. I trusted her.
She kept telling me that, if you had a strong enough belief, you could
At fifteen, Ray Charles lost his mother
and then, within the same year, his father. He was alone, with no
relatives. "I went out looking for work as a musician. The first band I
got into, there was a regular pianist but they would let me sit in near
the end of the night."
He worked when he could as a pianist or
saxophonist. "Of course, no one had braille arrangements. I would get
one of the guys to read off the music and I would write it down in
braille, then go back to my room and memorize it. It was a lot of work,
but it strengthened my memory, taught me to remember."
wasn't easy. He got seven or eight dollars a night—and it was a
"helluva good week" if he worked two nights. "The strange thing is that
people can learn to live with less. When I had parents, there was all I
wanted to eat. But I learned that man can go from day to day on a can
of sardines and a few crackers. You just have to remember to save that
can until you really need it."
At seventeen, Ray decided to do
something on his own and organized his first trio. "I admired Charles
Brown and Nat Cole. I imitated them. We began to travel and got as far
as Seattle, Washington." There they won a job on a television station,
and the trio was the first Negro act to be sponsored in the Northwest.
then Ray began to have mixed feelings about his music. He wanted to
develop a style of his own and he gave it much thought. "It seemed to
me a person must play from deep within himself. You do that, and you
don't have to worry about originality—because then you are doing what
no other man can do, and that is being yourself. They call my music
'soulful' and that's what I think it is. I sing from the soul."
music critics have spoken of the spiritual feeling in his style. Some
have written that he got his early training in spirituals. "That's not
at all true," he told me. "I never sang in choirs. I didn't have time.
I was too busy trying to make a dollar to eat. But I'm basically a very
religious man and love gospel music and, if you love something, it's
bound to rub off."
His wife Delia was singing in a gospel group
in Houston, Texas, when he met her. He speaks of her and his family
with feeling. Their home is in Los Angeles and he has three sons, the
eldest six years. "I've got very definite ideas on how children should
be raised," he said. "I'm of the old school and believe they should at
all times be respectful. But, most important, I believe the best thing
for kids is their parents. We have no maid to help out with the boys,
although Delia might get a baby-sitter once in a while. She never goes
on the road with me, for I think no outsider—not even an aunt or
grandmother—can take the place of a parent."
hasn't bothered his relationship with his kids. "They like to go to the
beach or have a picnic. I like that, too." His hobby at home is working
with his intricate audio equipment and he handles all the complicated
switches and knobs and buttons himself. And he listens to music, all
kinds. "I love to hear certain operas, and I'm only sorry that they
aren't in English so that I could get fuller enjoyment from them."
has had memorable experiences. The first night he played in Carnegie
Hall, he brought down the house. He got a sensational welcome at the
Hollywood Palladium recently. He remembers Paris with love. "It was
almost too much in France. We were scheduled to do only four concerts,
but so many turned out that we had to do two more."
about what his career is like these days, behind the ovations and
hurrahs. "It never gets easier. It's a struggle when you're trying to
get to the top. and with me it wasn't overnight. It was step by step,
all the way. And when you get up there, you've got to work even harder
to maintain the position. There's always someone else trying to knock
you over. I don't regret that part of it. There's always room for
improvement in a man. Competition keeps a man from getting lazy."
has refused to compromise the inner feeling about what his music should
be. Recently, a movie company gave him a song and offered him $15,000
to record it on a movie track. Ray took the song home —and, the next
day, returned the music with his apologies. "I'll tell you what
happened. I worked on that song all night. I tried it every different
way—as blues, a tango, a waltz, everything—but I couldn't get any
feeling out of it. And, believe me, it didn't make me happy to turn
down fifteen grand! I'm just not in the position to turn down that kind
He has a reputation for demanding the best from his
band—in fact, of being tough; though his sidemen, without exception,
are loyal. Yet, away from the bandstand, he is soft-spoken. At no time
during our interview was there the slightest trace of self-pity when he
spoke of handicaps and hardships. Evident was the dignity instilled by
his mother . . . pride in music . . . purposeful integrity. There was
no sign of weakness in the man.
TV Radio Mirror