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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Hall of Fame Producer Billy Sherrill Dies at 78

Producer and songwriter Billy Sherrill, best known for his work with George Jones and Tammy Wynette, died Tuesday (Aug. 4) at age 78 following a brief illness. Billy was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, elected in 2010 best unblocked games.

The native of Alabama produced Tammy Wynette’s signature hit “Stand by Your Man” and also had a hand in co-writing it. Billy had the idea and the title for the song, which he and Tammy wrote during a break at a recording session in Nashville. Feminists at the time objected to the subject matter, but Billy staunchly defended it through the years, insisting that it was just another way of saying “I love you.”

Perhaps the most famous story surrounding Billy involved the George Jones classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” George detested the song, calling it “morbid” among other unprintable adjectives, and balked at recording it. Billy eventually convinced unblocked games George otherwise and bet the singer $100 that fans would love the song. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” not only became a No. 1 hit but is now generally considered the greatest country song ever written.

And yes, George paid up.

Billy also produced Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl,” David Houston’s “Almost Persuaded” and many others. He worked with such diverse artists as Ray Charles, rocker Elvis Costello and Johnny Paycheck during his prolific career.

We at NASH Country Weekly send our condolences to Billy’s wife, Charlene, and members of his family.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture – 1st Annual Conference & Workshop

The Story of New Orleans Creole Cooking: The Black Hand in the Pot 

The Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture inaugural conference proudly presents,  “The Story of New Orleans Creole Cooking: The Black Hand in the Pot,” to be held at Dillard University on Thursday, April 16, 2015 and Friday, April 17, 2015 at the Whitney Plantation. This year’s conference will focus on the history and contributions of African-Americans to the world famous New Orleans Creole Cuisine from it’s origins to the Civil Rights Movement.

On Thursday, April 16, 2015, guest historians and lecturers, will present a full day of lectures, panel discussions, multimedia presentations and live performances. Culinary historian and historical interpreter, Michael Twitty will be the keynote speaker on Reading the West & Central African Presence in the Creole Culinary Repertoire. Twitty will also present a cooking demonstration at the oldest detached kitchen in Louisiana at the Whitney Plantation on Friday, April 17, 2015.

Topics and presenters include:  Memory Dishes from Gritsland and Riceland by Dr. Ibrahima Seck, Academic Director, Whitney Plantation; Feeding the Body and Soul - Louisiana Cuisine and its Relationship to Civil Rights Activism by A.P. Tureaud Jr., New Orleans Civil Rights Activist; The Ingenuity of the New Orleans Street Vendor by Barbara Trevigne, New Orleans Creole Historian; Before Martha Stewart there was  Lena Richard by Liz Williams, Director of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum; Uncovering the Culinary History of Dillard University: 1935-2014 by Zella Palmer, Director of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program; From Palm Fronds to Crawfish Bisque by Austin Sonnier, Educator, Master Gardener and Co-owner of Austin’s Gourmet to Go catering company.

The Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture mission is to research, document, disseminate and preserve the culinary patrimony of African Americans and to celebrate African American culture through the study of food and foodways in the South. The scholarship that the program and its institute engender will serve as the culinary focal point for the African American communities of New Orleans, the South, the United States and the world-at-large.

Ray Charles Case to Set Important Copyright Termination Precedent

The 9th Circuit is set to decide an important case involving the children of Ray Charles and the charitable foundation to which Mr. Charles willed his right to receive royalties from his music publishing agreement with Warner-Chappell Music.   With more artists and their heirs terminating prior assignments of copyrights, this case will either help affirm the protection afforded to authors and their heirs under the U.S. Copyright Act or weaken the Act’s protection of authors and their statutory heirs from premature transfers of their termination rights.

Section 304(c) of the U.S. Copyright Act provides the statutory heirs of deceased authors, in this case Mr. Charles’ children, the sole right to terminate the assignment of copyrights from an author to a third party. The termination right may not be transferred by will or by any other “agreement to the contrary.” Mr. Charles died before he was permitted under the statute to send the vast majority of termination notices to Warner-Chappell, the owner of his publishing rights.  Since under the statute, Mr. Charles could not donate the copyright termination right by will to his foundation, in order to ensure that his foundation would continue to receive the music publishing income stream after his death, Mr. Charles entered into agreements with each of his children providing that in exchange for $500,000 they would not take any actions to challenge the estate.  Nevertheless, the majority of Mr. Charles’ children decided to exercise their termination rights pursuant to Section 304(c) of the Copyright Act, arguing that the agreement they entered into with Mr. Charles is an “agreement to the contrary” that the statute preempts.  The Ray Charles Foundation, meanwhile, argues that the children have the right to terminate the copyrights, provided that they return the $500,000 they each received from Mr. Charles.  The Ray Charles Foundation also challenged the validity of the termination notices, including on the grounds that the musical compositions were created as “works made for hire,” which are not subject to termination under Section 304(c).

The District Court previously ruled that the children did not violate their agreement with the estate by filing the termination notices, and that the foundation was not entitled to a return of the $500,000 that each of the children had received.

On February 12th, the 9th Circuit heard an appeal by the Ray Charles Foundation of a district court’s ruling that the foundation lacks standing to challenge the termination notices Mr. Charles’ children sent to Warner-Chappell.  In this case, the fact that Warner-Chappell appears not to have raised objections to the termination notices itself suggests that the foundation may be grasping at straws.  In the vast majority of cases,  publishers have declined to assert the defense to termination that the musical compositions they own were created as “works made for hire.”

The case, however, does pose a legitimate question regarding the rights of non-copyright owner parties who may be affected by the termination of copyrights to raise objections to the validity of copyright termination notices.  For example, imagine a scenario in which an artist has a closely held entity that owns the artist’s sound recordings. [NOTE:  unlike musical compositions, which are almost always subject to the termination right, there is a reasonable amount of uncertainty regarding whether or not the work for hire language in recording agreements prevents artists from exercising their termination rights with respect to sound recordings.]  Now imagine that the artist-owned entity entered into a long-term distribution or licensing agreement with a third party record label.  The artist’s entity could effectively terminate the third party label’s right to continue to distribute or license the recordings by accepting the termination by the artist of the closely held entity’s rights in the recordings.  Yet, there is a legitimate issue of first impression regarding whether the work for hire provisions of a recording agreement would prohibit such a termination under the Copyright Act (in this case, Section 203 of the Copyright Act).  The decision of the 9th Circuit in The Ray Charles Foundation v. Robinson et al. 13-55421 (9th Cir. Filed March 12, 2013) will determine whether or not the third party record label will have the standing to challenge the validity of such terminations.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Ray Charles' Foundation Sues His Own Children In Copyright Fight

The Ray Charles Foundation is now suing seven of his children for $3.5 million -- basically asking for their inheritance back -- after the children sought to terminate the copyrights on his songs and regain control over them. There's a bit of a backstory here. Apparently, before he died, Charles gathered a bunch of his children, and told them that he was leaving each of them $500,000 (and enough to cover the taxes on the money) if they signed agreements stating that was all they would get, and that they would not seek to get anything else from his estate. However, recently a bunch of the children have begun the process of terminating the copyright assignments over Charles' songs, and the Foundation is arguing this is a breach of that agreement.

Now, my first thought upon reading the CNN article above is that this doesn't make much sense. We've been discussing copyright termination rights for a while, and one clear aspect of them is that you cannot contractually give up your termination rights. I would think that a contract that provided something that you lose if you exercise your termination rights would not be enforceable for that reason. If you haven't been following the details of the termination rights issue, under the 1976 copyright act, original creators can "terminate" the assignment of their copyright and basically reclaim it from whoever has it at the 35 year mark. Thus, musicians who signed record deals in 1978 (when the Act first came into effect) can start reclaiming their rights next year.

However, the details found in the actual lawsuit (pdf and embedded below) are a bit more complicated. First of all, as we've discussed at length, if the artist is considered to have done work under a "work for hire" agreement (and the terms of what counts for work for hire are very specific and go way beyond just saying it's work for hire), then termination rights do not apply. In this case, the Ray Charles Foundation is actually arguing that Ray Charles' agreement with Atlantic Records was a "work for hire" situation. This is a little strange. Normally, we see the record labels arguing that it was work for hire, but the artist or their heirs arguing it was not. In this case, however, since the Foundation is completely cut off from the heirs, it seems to be arguing in favor or a work for hire arrangement. Also, the reason why the 1976 Act's termination rights apply to works from before 1978 is a bit complicated, but it has to do with a new agreement that Charles made concerning his works in 1980.

If you find this all a bit confusing, you're not the only one. The Foundation notes that Charles' children aren't even sure which works can be terminated, and because of multiple copyright registration dates, they've been filing for termination on the same work multiple times:
The situation of the Ray Charles song "Mary Ann," is illustrative: Defendants have served a purported termination for a supposed January 23, 1955, transfer (supposedly to take effect on April 1, 2012), another purported termination for a supposed May 2, 1963, transfer (supposedly to take effect on May 3, 2019), and, because "Mary Ann" is an Assigned Composition under the 1980 Agreement, a third termination for a supposed transfer contained in this September 23, 1980, agreement (supposedly to take effect on November 15, 2015). Even if some of the terminations were deemed valid, it is still extremely difficult, if not impossible to determine when the copyright of the Assigned Compositions will change hands.
Of course, I'm not so sure that's a reasonable excuse for ignoring termination rights altogether. Just because the labels and Charles may have had piss poor record keeping, people should just throw their hands up in the air and ignore termination rights?

Reading through this lawsuit really highlights just what a complete and total mess copyright law is, and how it's such a complicated mess due to the way it's been adjusted and changed over the years, that the system is really quite hopelessly broken. A situation like the one described above with multiple termination notices on the same song is just illustrative of the problem. Furthermore, while I'm not a fan of the concept of termination rights in general, this case could get interesting for being one (of many) testing challenges over whether or not artist agreements from decades ago were really "work for hire" situations -- and this is a case where the label isn't actually involved (right now). That makes it one worth watching.

Of course, there is a separate issue that hasn't been brought up yet, but I wonder if it will make an appearance at some point. In his book The Public Domain, James Boyle tracks down the true history of Ray Charles' classic song "I Got a Woman". What he discovers is that, contrary to what has been said before, the song was actually a copy of a song by the Bailey Gospel Singers called "I've Got a Savior" (whereas the common wisdom is that Charles was actually copying a public domain song "Jesus Is All The World To Me"). As Boyle discovered, "I've Got a Savior" is much much closer to "I Got a Woman". And that's at least somewhat problematic, since "I Got a Woman" came out just three or four years after "I've Got a Savior" (which itself borrowed heavily from other works). So, once could make an argument that "I Got a Woman" (which is one of the songs being disputed here) may have some fairly shallow copyrights on just the changes from that other song.

Of course, perhaps the larger point in all of this is that almost all of the songs being fought over should be going into the public domain about now. "I Got A Woman", for example, received its copyright on December 20th, 1954 -- at which point it would have been given a 28 year grant, renewable for another 28 years. As such it should have gone into the public domain in 2010. There are a bunch of other songs on the list that received their original copyright in 1955 and 1956 -- all of which should be going into the public domain right now, but are not. Perhaps that's the real issue that we should be focusing on: how the public has been completely robbed of these works, violating the promise made to the public in exchange for granting Charles and Atlantic Records that original copyright.

POINT OF VIEW: Waving to Ray Charles: Missing the Meaning of Disabilities

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

POINT OF VIEW: Waving to Ray Charles: Missing the Meaning of Disabilities

Article excerpt

Current calls to close the achievement gap between students with disabilities and those without not only ignore reality but, argues Mr. Kauffman, also pose a real threat to special education students and their teachers.

YOU MAY forgive yourself if you chuckled silently as you read the title of this article. The idea that someone would have tried to wave to Ray Charles during his lifetime is funny simply because everyone knew that he couldn't see anyone waving to him. Indeed, waving to any blind person is humorous, but it is par-ticularly funny to think of someone waving to a blind person who is known throughout the world to be blind. Perhaps the humor resides in our seeing the naivete of a child in the social unawareness of an adult. However, anyone who waves to a blind person demonstrates a misunderstanding of facts.

Laughing at something funny might be an appropriate initial response. But some funny events are also dangerous, and besides laughing we need to respond seriously to the danger. Unfortunately, too often we neither laugh at the funny-but-dangerous nor take appropriate corrective action. We then fail in two ways: first by not laughing at funny things and second by not trying to stop something dangerous. Our failures then demonstrate our willingness to ignore reality.

Among the laughable but dangerous assumptions of many who should know better is that there need be no gap between the achievement of students with disabilities and the achievement of those who do not have disabilities. This assumption may be implicit in policy or even explicit in policy documents. Either way, it shows that someone has apparently missed the meaning of "disability." In education, students with disabilities are those who score low on tests because of their disability. Trying to close this gap is like waving to Ray Charles. But educators are led in this misunderstanding of facts by the United States Department of Education.

President Bush appointed the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education (PCESE) in October 2001. In July 2002, the commission filed its report, A New Era: Revitalizing Special Education for Children and their Families.1 Among the bizarre statements included is this one: "The ultimate test of the value of special education is that, once identified, children close the achievement gap with their peers" (p. 4). Of course, the gap to which the PCESE refers is not closable, for reasons obvious to anyone with an understanding of statistics and disability. Moreover, the federal rules that pertain to scores from alternative assessments under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act ignore the fact that far more than 1% of schoolchildren have disabilities that depress their test scores.

We would all like to see higher achievement for students with and without disabilities. Nevertheless, students with disabilities, as a group, score lower on tests than do students without disabilities. That is, their average will always be lower, even though some individuals with disabilities will score at or above the average for the general population. However, the PCESE did not define the achievement gap as the difference between what students with disabilities could achieve and what they do achieve -- a gap we could and should close. Nor did the PCESE refer to the difference between what students with disabilities achieve with, versus without, special education. That is another closable gap that we should address. But the gap between the average achievement for students in special education and the average achievement for students in general education cannot be closed without eliminating the top achievers in general education or the lowest achievers in special education -- or both.

Students in general education are the wrong comparison group for assessing the effectiveness of special education. The appropriate comparison would be between students with disabilities who receive special education and students with disabilities who do not, given that students in the two groups are similar in other ways. …

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Ray Charles

Charles, Ray 1930–

Ray Charles 1930

Vocalist, musician, composer, arranger
At a Glance
Rays Early Days
On The Road
Atlantic Records
A New Direction
The Legend Lives On
Selected discography

Above all his many talents is the innate ability of Ray Charles to interpret and sing songs in such a way as to fill the words from the depths of his own heart, carrying this emotion to the listener. As quoted in author Joe Goldbergs Jazz Masters of the 50s, Ray says, I sing the songs for what they mean to me. However, his highly regarded singing has tended to obscure his other considerable accomplishments as a blues pianist, band leader, composer, and arranger. Jazz musicians speak of a quality called the cry, a quality that echoes the blues no matter what is being played. The cry of blues permeates every Charles performance, said Goldberg.

Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930, son of Bailey and Aretha Robinson. Ray is the father of nine children, three by his former wife DellaRay, Jr., David, and Robert. Ray and his beloved mother Aretha moved to Greenville, Florida when Ray was six-months-old. Rays absent father, Bailey Robinson, was a migrant railroad worker who Ray never knew. Times were tough for Ray, his younger brother George, and Rays mother during their Greenville years. In his autobiography entitled, Brother Ray, Ray recalled that Even compared to the other blacks in Greenville, we were at the bottom of the ladder. Tragically, at the age of five-years-old, young Ray helplessly watched as his four-year-old brother George drowned in a washtub from which Ray was unable to pull him out. Thereafter, Rays eyesight worsened considerably from glaucoma, leaving Ray completely blind by the age of seven. Ray then attended a state school in St. Augustine for the deaf and blind.

Despite being born into extreme poverty, Ray has created a prolific body of work spanning five decades. Proficient in numerous styles, Rays recordings are rich in blues, jazz, and country, and he has been simultaneously thought of as the best rock n roll singer, best jazz singer, and best pop singer, at times second only to Sinatra. Possessed of a sound which remains widely imitated by prominent artists and having been honored with numerous awards during his career, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, it is Rays title as Father of Soul Music, which seems to stick with him. However, Ray does not care to be pigeonholed into any one category. When told that he has successfully avoided all attempts to be categorized, he replies in Goldbergs

At a Glance

Born Ray Charles Robinson, September 23, 1930, Albany, GA, son of Bailey and Aretha Robinson; married 23 years and divorced from Della; their children- Ray, Jr., David, and Robert. Father of six other children. Raised in Greenville, FL and began playing piano as a small child. Lost sight at age seven from glaucoma. Learned classical piano while attending school for deaf and blind in St. Augustine, FL.

Career: Began touring with dance bands at age 15; road job with Lowell Fulsom led to a booking at Harlems Appollo Theatre; formed Swing-time Trio in Seattle; recording artist for Atlantic Records 1952-59; ABC-Paramount, 1959-65; and his own labels Tangerine Records 1965-73, Crossover Records Co., 1973-. Sang in We Are the World in 1985. Numerous TV and concert appearances including, Ray Charles, 50 Years in Music and Uh-Huh advertising for Pepsi-Cola in 1991, 1992. Compilations include The Ray Charles Story (1962); A Man and His Soul (1967); 25th Anniversary in Show Business Salute to Ray Charles (1971); The Right Time (1987); The Collection (1990, ABC recordings); The Birth of Soul (1991); The Living Legend (1993). Films include Blues For Lovers a.k.a. Ballad in Blue (1964) and The Blues Brothers (1980).

Selected awards: Bronze medallion, French Republic; Image award, NAACP; Named#1 malesinger, 16th Intl. Jazz Critics Poll, 1968; inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; 10 Grammy awards, including Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, 1987; Playboy Jazz and Pop Hall of Fame; Songwriters Hall of Fame; honorary lifetime chairman of Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame; and Leadership award, NAFEO, 1991. Selected gold records include: Ray Charles Greatest Hits, 1962; Modern Sound in Country and Western Music, Vol 1 and Vol. 2, 1962, 1963; Ray Charles: A Man and His Soul, 1967.

Addresses: Ray Charles Entertainment, 2107 W. Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90018.
book, I consider that a compliment. I dont want to be branded. I dont want the rhythm-and-blues brand, or the pop brand, or any other. Thats why I try all these different things.... I know not everybody likes everything I do. Some like one thing, and some another. But I try to please everybody, while doing what I want. Im an entertainer. Ray is possessed of a quick, curious mind, a wide grasp of current affairs, and a ready laugh. Ray feels that he has been blessed with regard to his talent, and there are many who would agree with him.

Rays Early Days

While in St. Augustine, Ray learned to read, compose, and write music in braille, as well as to play the clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, and keyboards. Though Ray became familiar with classical music there, it was at the upright piano of Wylie Pittman, a local grocer, where Ray first experienced playing the piano. Robert Palmer writes that Ray fondly recalls visiting Wylies after school, where ... hed let me sit on the piano stool or in the chair next to him and bang on the piano with him. Ray credits four pianists as influencing him the most as a child: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, King Cole, and Oscar Peterson. Rays excellence as a blues pianist is evident on his instrumental albums, including The Great Ray Charles. Long-time friend, arranger Quincy Jones, credits Rays piano abilities as a major factor in the success of Rays recordings. Young Ray possessed a natural talent for music and, by age twelve, was reportedly able to arrange and score all parts of big band or orchestral music. As a child, Ray listened to a wide variety of blues and swing along with the weekly Grand Ole Opry and gospel music of his Baptist church. All of this can account for Rays eclectic, original style.

On The Road

While in St. Augustines at age 15, Ray learned of his mothers death. Rays father had also died several years earlier. With no immediate family left, Ray moved to Jacksonville, Florida in search of work. Ray recalled those days as being rough times, however, he felt that his youth provided him with a certain resilience. Soon, Ray was playing in numerous small bands across the state of Florida. By 1948, now 18-years-old, Ray was a seasoned road musician. Around the same time, however, Ray was well acquainted with heroin use, which he continued using for many years to come. However, the ambitious Ray was determined to make his way in music and he purchased an early wire recorder, recording some demo tapes in Tampa, Florida.

Once he had saved around $600 from performances, Ray travelled to the West Coast, settling for a time in Seattle. Out west, he met Quincy Jones and Bumps Blackwell, producer of the original Little Richard hits. Ray also successfully assembled a trio of guitar, bass, and piano, dropping his last name Robinson so as not to be confused with then popular boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson. Rays trio came to the attention of Jack Lauderdale of Downbeat and later Swingtime records. By 1950, Ray had moved to Los Angeles and was cutting records for Swingtime. One of Rays daughters was also born during this year by a woman named Louise.

In 1951, Ray recorded a hit popular with the black community known as Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand which reached the Top 10 on the rhythm and blues charts. This, along with other Swingtime singles, were in the style of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown, as young Ray had not yet mastered his own style. He tried to sound like them in order to get work, especially club work.

Atlantic Records

During this same period, Ray toured with blues singer Lowell Fulsom and became the pianist for Fulsoms band. Near the end of 1951, Swingtime records opted to drop Ray and Atlantic Records partners Ahmet Ertegun, Herb Abramson, and Jerry Wexler snatched him up without ever having seen him, paying around $2,500 for his contract. For his beginning sessions with Atlantic, Ray was teamed with an extraordinarily talented group of New York studio players under the direction of Jesse Stone including guitarist Mickey Baker, drummer Connie Kay, and bassist Lloyd Trotman.

Apparently Jesse Stone was dissatisfied with his inability to take direction, learning some years later that Ray was better at giving, rather than receiving, direction. Nonetheless, a compromise between his individualism and the commercial rhythm and blues marketplace provided Ray with an Atlantic hit, a year and a half after signing with them. Despite his temperament, the Atlantic partners never treated Ray as just another artist. To them, he was a musical genius with a lot more to offer than writing and singing songs.

Ray worked out of New Orleans for much of 1953, the final period of his formative years. However, the Louisiana rhythm had less affect on his overall work than some have speculated. By this time, Ray was well on his way to a comfortable, innovative style. Actually, his mid-fifties band arrangements more closely resembled the style of James Brown than New Orleans rhythm and blues. Rays original style also emerged as a result of his work with Guitar Slim, whose crude gospel blues greatly influenced him. He even arranged Slims million-selling single, Things That I Used To Do. Early recordings are based on blues and gospel forms, including the soulful, A Fool For You, What Would I Do Without You?, Its Allright, and Drown In My Own Tears. During this time, Ray divorced his wife of approximately 16 months, a beautician named Eileen, and subsequently remarried Della.

In the fall of 1954, Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records traveled to Atlanta to hear Rays latest batch of songs which differed radically from his expert imitations of Nat King Cole, Charles Brown, and Louis Jordan of the previous six years. Ray had learned to unite gospel and blues music together for the incredible birth of soul music. Once his new music caught on, he became known as The Genius and The Bishop. From New Orleans, Ray moved on to Dallas, where he put together his first true band, with bandleader Renald Richard. The band began performing with Ruth Brown from El Paso throughout Florida. During this time, saxophonist David (Fathead) Newman joined the band, and Ray and Richard developed the song, I Got A Woman, which marked the turning point in his music from rhythm and blues to soul, exuding the fervor of the Baptist Church. In November of 1954 Charles extended an invitation to Atlantic executives Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler which resulted in a meeting at the Peacock Club in Atlanta. It was there that Wexler first realized the overall change in Rays music. However, Nesuhi Ertegun, Ahmets brother, acknowledged that Rays style was not necessarily unique, as noted by author Robert Palmer, Ray was not the first to do this, combine gospel and blues. He is the best of a long tradition, but there were people singing this way twenty years ago. But Ray was able to bring so much of his own to it.

Early Atlantic recordings were made with Ray while he performed in Atlanta, Florida, and New York. Nesuhi Ertegun viewed this as an advantage for recording purposes, as it gave Ray a chance to work out his arrangements on the road. Upon his return to Atlanta, Wexler and Ertegun managed to produce his first number one hit album, I Got a Woman, a confirmation of the greatness of Ray Charles. The release of Rays next single, I Got A Woman, also soared to number one on the rhythm and blues charts. The extraordinary success of his new style, both commercially and artistically, spurred similar hit songs to follow, including, This Little Girl of Mine (1955), Talkin Bout You (1957), and Dont Let The Sun Catch You Crying (1959), whose call-and-response style was fully realized with Rays mega-hit, Whatd I Say? in 1959. This song remains a favorite closing number among performing soul singers worldwide.

Also during this period Americas white youth discovered recordings by black artists. Elvis Presley had helped to erode racial barriers and, in fact, was somewhat of a Ray Charles fan. However, despite the fact that Atlantic executives wished to pursue sales in the white pop marketplace, Ray refused to compromise his musical style with the simpler beat, adolescent lyrics, and smoother singing. He continued on with his soulful music, and his recordings continued to sell, albeit largely among the black community. Atlantic continued to support Ray in his endeavors, hence, his soul music was undiluted and some of his landmark songs from this time were even more soulful than his earlier recordings, including Come Back Baby, Drown In My Own Tears, and Hallelujah I Love Her So.

Interestingly enough, Ray does not see his pivotal role in the creation of soul music. He said, When people ask me what I think about soul music.... I think all these terms are names that the media give the music in order to try to describe what they mean. I dont know the difference between rhythm and blues, soul music, and the black version of disco; the rhythm patterns are the same, recalled Robert Palmer. Ray also shied away from taking credit for the creation of rock and roll, feeling that his music was more adult and filled with despair, considering rhythm and blues as genuine down-to-earth Negro music. Of all his tunes from the mid-fifties, only Swanee River Rock remotely resembles rock and roll, and it became Rays first significant pop hit, reaching number 34 on the Billboard chart. In Jazz Masters of the 50s, Ray speaks of his work in this way, The things I write and sing about concern the general Joe and his general problems. There are four basic things: love, somebody runnin his mouth too much, having fun, and jobs are hard to get.... When I put myself in the place of the... general Joe Im singing about,... I sing with all the feeling I can put into it, so that I can feel it myself.

Luckily for Ray his band was flexible, extemporaneous, and talented enough to accommodate his sense of musical perfection. Until 1959, Rays band had two saxophonists, with him playing a third, alto sax. He realized a stroke of luck when, around this time, baritone saxophonist Leroy Hog Cooper joined the band. The band now consisted of Hank Crawford on alto, Newman on tenor, and Cooper on baritone sax. There were also two trumpeters, Joe Bridgewater and Marcus Belgrave, with William Peoples as the primary drummer and Roosevelt Sheffield as bassist. Between 1957 and 1959, with the expansion of his band, Ray delved into greater musical forays, including an extended interest in country and western music. From here, he recruited three female singers to contrast against his voice, reminiscent of traditional call-and-response gospel singing. The female singers included Mary Ann Fisher, Darlene McRae, and Margie Hendrix. Thereafter, the chorus became known as the Raeletts. The hit single, What Kind of Man Are You is a splendid example of the intense, spiritual feel provided to Rays music with the addition of the Raeletts. His musical scores continued to expand and I Want A Little Girl, swing oriented, Yes Indeed, with jazz elements, and I Had A Dream with rich gospel sounds, all came out of this time. Whatd I Say? his first million-seller song, was one of the finest renderings of the call-and-response pattern between Ray and his new girls. The suggestion of sex in this particular song, however, resulted in its first being played only by black radio stations until it was covered by Elvis Presley, at which time the white radio stations also picked it up.

Despite his past inconsistencies in terms of concert arrival times, drug abuse, and temperamental ways, Ray has always been a superb musician and gracious performer who captivates his audience. Fortunately, Atlantic records took advantage of Rays live audience appeal, recording two in-person appearances, Ray Charles at Newport and Ray Charles In Person, where the live vocals take on a quality not easily captured in the studio. It was the Atlantic executives who first recognized Ray as a genius, not hesitating to call him such, as they considered Rays whole approach to music as very different from anybody elses. Despite his denial of same, he pioneered a style of music during the 1950s like no other up to that time. During his final days with Atlantic, Ray experimented musically with a passion, leaving Atlantic with his final recording, The Genius of Ray Charles which decidedly freed him from the stereotype of rock n roll singer and sealing him firmly as Mr. Soul to use one artists words. Ray had a large hand in the arrangement of this album, resulting in three triumphant singles, Dont Let The Sun Catch You Cryin, Am I Blue, and Come Rain or Come Shine. When Rays Atlantic contract expired in late 1959, ABC-Paramount made him a rare and generous offer and he moved on.

A New Direction

In 1961 Ray and Betty Carter collaborated on an album that produced the hit, Baby Its Cold Outside. While Atlantic felt a terrible loss when Charles left, ABC was well satisfied as Ray churned out one mega-hit after another, including, Georgia on My Mind (1960) and Hit The Road Jack in 1961, thereby establishing himself as an international artist. In 1962, Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music was released to massive sales. A single from this album, I Cant Stop Loving You, sold three million copies. Though Rays crossover into country music caused significant controversy, the popularity of his recording spawned a second volume under the same name with several more hits. He did not become mainstreamed like most black country artists, but rather, retained his gospel-blues sound. Ray changed stylistically somewhat, though, in 1961, as he moved from a blues shouter to a crooner of soul, achieving a phenomenal sweep of four Grammy awards on April 21, 1961 for Best Vocal Performer (male); Best Single (Georgia on My Mind); Best Album (The Genius of Ray Charles); and Best Song (Let the Good Times Roll).
While Ray was an unquestioned success, he was also a long-term drug user. On November 14, 1961, Ray was arrested on a narcotics charge in an Indiana hotel room, where he awaited to perform. The detectives seized heroin, marijuana, and other items. Ray, then 31-years-old, stated that he had been a drug addict since the age of 16. While the case was dismissed because of the manner in which the evidence was obtained, his situation did not improve until a few years later. Individuals who cared for Ray, such as Quincy Jones and Reverend Henry Griffin, felt that those around Ray were responsible for his drug use, as he was unable to obtain or administer drugs to himself, given his blindness. By 1964 Rays drug addiction caught up with him and he was arrested for possession of marijuana and heroin. Following a self-imposed stay at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California, where he kicked his drug habit in 96 hours, Ray received five years probation. From the mid-60s on, he stuck to relatively popular tunes, though there were exceptions, including, I Dont Need No Doctor, Lets Go Get Stoned, and the release of his first album since kicking his heroin habit, the impassioned Cryin Time.

The Legend Lives On

By the late 1970s Rays 20-year marriage to Della Robinson ended. His lengthy absences and womanizing were contributing factors to the breakdown of the marriage. Rays work in the 1980s included more country music as well as a cameo appearance in the film, The Blues Brothers. However, it is his powerful performance on the USA for Africa release We Are the World in 1985 which fans recall most. Come the 1990s, Ray is still going strong, continuing with live performances, accompanied by his 17-piece band and the now five members of the Raeletts. Rays continual rearrangements of old favorites such as I Feel So Bad and Just for a Thrill, cement his reputation as The Genius of Soul. Ray was selected by Pepsi-Cola to act as their spokes-singer with a catchy Uh-Huh theme that resulted in one of the most likeable and memorable advertisement campaigns of 1991. Additionally, he was featured on public televisions American Masters on January 3, 1992 in Ray Charles: The Genius of Soul In this documentary, written, directed, and narrated by Yvonne Smith, Ray is touted as a national treasure. The documentary celebrated the his legendary career through his battles with drugs, notorious pursuit of women, and marriage of 23 years. Through it all, Ray is a survivor. The documentary showed him as the driven, complicated, exceptionally talented individual and musician which he remains.

Rays My World, released in 1993 by Warner Brothers, was his first major encounter with programmed percussion, a great difference for the artist so used to fine tuning his own musicians. Nonetheless, My World proved to be one of Rays finest releases in years, with a return to his earlier form. At 62 years of age, he continued to transform ordinary songs with powerful ingenuity. Ray can change the harmony, phrasing, lyrics, tempo, or whatever works for him, while performing a song, causing his tunes to touch the listeners heart. On October 7, 1993, President Clinton honored 18 distinguished Americans, including Ray Charles, with a silver medal for contributions to our nations cultural life. As quoted in The New York Times, Clinton recognized Ray and others with these words, These extraordinary individuals have made a gift to American cultural life that is beyond measure. In 1995, at age 64, Ray performed at the Avery Fisher Hall as part of the JVC Jazz Festival and showed that he was able to stir emotion within his audience, this time through the famous, Georgia on My Mind. Ray remains one of Americas greatest singers and The New York Times reports that, Behind his comedy, there [is] melancholy; behind the melancholy, resilience. Author Goldberg shares Rays own words, All music is related... if you feel and believe in your music, that conviction carries over to the public. You can create a very strong emotional bond between yourself and your listener that way. At 66 years of age, Ray Charles endures.

Selected discography

Hallelujah I Love Her So aka Ray Charles (Atlantic)
Soul Brothers (Atlantic)
Ray Charles at Newport (Atlantic)
Yes Indeed (Atlantic)
Ray Charles (Hollywood)
The Fabulous Ray Charles (Hollywood)
Whatdl Say (Atlantic)
The Genius of Ray Charles (Atlantic)
Ray Charles in Person (Atlantic)
Genius Hits the Road (ABC-Paramount)
The Genius After Hours (ABC-Paramount)
The Genius Sings the Blues (Atlantic)
Soul Meeting (Atlantic)
Do The Twist With Ray Charles (Atlantic)
Dedicated To You (ABC-Paramount)
Genius + Soul = Jazz (Atlantic)
Modern Sounds in Country and Western (ABC-Paramount)
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Vol. 2 (ABC-Paramount)
Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul (ABC-Paramount)
Sweet and Sour Tears (ABC-Paramount)
Have A Smile With Me (ABC-Paramount)
Live In Concert (ABC-Paramount)
Country and Western Meets Rhythm and Blues aka Together Again (ABC-Paramount)
Cryin Time (ABC-Paramount)
Rays Moods (ABC-Paramount)
A Portrait of Ray (ABC/TRC)
Im All Yours Baby! (ABC/TRC)
Doin His Thing (ABC/TRC)
The Birth of Soul (Atlantic)
My World (Warner)



The African American Almanac, 6th edition. Gale Research, 1994, 7th edition, 1995.
Goldberg, Joe. Jazz Masters of the Fifties. The MacMillan Co.; New York, 1965.
The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Vol. 1, edited by Colin Larkin. Stockton Press, New York, 1995.
Palmer, Robert. The Birth of Soul (discography booklet insert). Atlantic Records, New York, 1991.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. Edited by Jon Pereles and Patricia Romanowski. Rolling Stone Press: New York, 1983.
White, Timothy. Rock Lives. Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1990. pp. 27-31.


New York Times, Jan 3, 1992, p. B13; February 14, 1992, p. D19; August 4, 1993, p. C17; October 10, 1993, p. C3; June 26, 1995, p. C11.
Washington Post, August 22, 1991, p. D3; November 8, 1991, p. WW20; March 3, 1996, p. B2; April 4, 1993, p. D7.
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