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
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
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
Ray 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."
As a 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.
His 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.
"I 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.
"Anything 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."
At 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 Cole
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 do?'"
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 accomplish anything."
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
Living 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.
But 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
Many 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."
His blindness 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."
He 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."
He talked 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."
Ray 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 of money."
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