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Ray Charles & The Count Basie Orchestra

Ray Charles was the musician most responsible for developing soul music. Singers like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson also did a great deal to pioneer the form, but Charles did even more to devise a new form of black pop by merging '50s R&B with gospel-powered vocals, adding plenty of flavor from contemporary jazz, blues, and (in the '60s) country. Then there was his singing; his style was among the most emotional and easily identifiable of any 20th century performer, up there with the likes of Elvis and Billie Holiday. He was also a superb keyboard player, arranger, and bandleader. The brilliance of his 1950s and '60s work, however, can't obscure the fact that he made few classic tracks after the mid-'60s, though he recorded often and performed until the year before his death.

Blind since the age of six (from glaucoma), Charles studied composition and learned many instruments at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind. His parents had died by his early teens, and he worked as a musician in Florida for a while before using his savings to move to Seattle in 1947. By the late '40s, he was recording in a smooth pop/R&B style derivative of Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. He got his first Top Ten R&B hit with "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" in 1951. Charles' first recordings came in for their fair share of criticism, as they were much milder and less original than the classics that would follow, although they're actually fairly enjoyable, showing strong hints of the skills that were to flower in a few years.

In the early '50s, Charles' sound started to toughen as he toured with Lowell Fulson, went to New Orleans to work with Guitar Slim (playing piano on and arranging Slim's huge R&B hit, "The Things That I Used to Do"), and got a band together for R&B star Ruth Brown. It was at Atlantic Records that Ray Charles truly found his voice, consolidating the gains of recent years and then some with "I Got a Woman," a number-two R&B hit in 1955. This is the song most frequently singled out as his pivotal performance, on which Charles first truly let go with his unmistakable gospel-ish moan, backed by a tight, bouncy horn-driven arrangement.

Throughout the '50s, Charles ran off a series of R&B hits that, although they weren't called "soul" at the time, did a lot to pave the way for soul by presenting a form of R&B that was sophisticated without sacrificing any emotional grit. "This Little Girl of Mine," "Drown in My Own Tears," "Hallelujah I Love Her So," "Lonely Avenue," and "The Right Time" were all big hits. But Charles didn't really capture the pop audience until "What'd I Say," which caught the fervor of the church with its pleading vocals, as well as the spirit of rock & roll with its classic electric piano line. It was his first Top Ten pop hit, and one of his final Atlantic singles, as he left the label at the end of the '50s for ABC.

One of the chief attractions of the ABC deal for Charles was a much greater degree of artistic control of his recordings. He put it to good use on early-'60s hits like "Unchain My Heart" and "Hit the Road Jack," which solidified his pop stardom with only a modicum of polish attached to the R&B he had perfected at Atlantic. In 1962, he surprised the pop world by turning his attention to country & western music, topping the charts with the "I Can't Stop Loving You" single, and making a hugely popular album (in an era in which R&B/soul LPs rarely scored high on the charts) with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Perhaps it shouldn't have been so surprising; Charles had always been eclectic, recording quite a bit of straight jazz at Atlantic, with noted jazz musicians like David "Fathead" Newman and Milt Jackson.

Charles remained extremely popular through the mid-'60s, scoring big hits like "Busted," "You Are My Sunshine," "Take These Chains From My Heart," and "Crying Time," although his momentum was slowed by a 1965 bust for heroin. This led to a year-long absence from performing, but he picked up where he left off with "Let's Go Get Stoned" in 1966. Yet by this time Charles was focusing increasingly less on rock and soul, in favor of pop tunes, often with string arrangements, that seemed aimed more at the easy listening audience than anyone else. Charles' influence on the rock mainstream was as apparent as ever; Joe Cocker and Steve Winwood in particular owe a great deal of their style to him, and echoes of his phrasing can be heard more subtly in the work of greats like Van Morrison.

One approaches sweeping criticism of Charles with hesitation; he was an American institution, after all, and his vocal powers barely diminished over his half-century career. The fact remains, though, that his work after the late '60s on record was very disappointing. Millions of listeners yearned for a return to the all-out soul of his 1955-1965 classics, but Charles had actually never been committed to soul above all else. Like Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, his focus was more upon all-around pop than many realize; his love of jazz, country, and pop standards was evident, even if his more earthy offerings were the ones that truly broke ground and will stand the test of time. He dented the charts (sometimes the country ones) occasionally, and commanded devoted international concert audiences whenever he felt like it. For good or ill, he ensured his imprint upon the American mass consciousness in the 1990s by singing several ads for Diet Pepsi. He also recorded three albums during the '90s for Warner Bros., but remained most popular as a concert draw. In 2002, he released Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again on his own Crossover imprint, and the following year began recording an album of duets featuring B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, and James Taylor. After hip replacement surgery in 2003, he scheduled a tour for the following summer, but was forced to cancel an appearance in March 2004. Three months later, on June 10, 2004, Ray Charles succumbed to liver disease at his home in Beverly Hills, CA. The duets album, Genius Loves Company, was released two months after his death. The biopic Ray hit screens in the fall of 2010 and was a critical and commercial success, with the actor who portrayed Charles in the move, Jamie Foxx, winning the 2005 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role. Two more posthumous albums, Genius & Friends and Ray Sings, Basie Swings, appeared in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Charles' recordings began reappearing in various facsimile editions, reissues, re-masters, and box sets as his entire recorded legacy received the attention that befits a legendary American artist. ~ Richie Unterberger $ Steve Leggett, Rovi
full bio

Comments

AMAZING no words explains
msegrelewis0
There was no mention of his vocal group, The Ray Charles Singers, who were themselves a legend in their days.
Ray had a parallel in Nat Cole, who was really an extremely proficient pianist who was derided when he branched off to vocals.
Two true giants of music.
wandawalseth
Love it!
I love Ray Charles. RIP.
awesome
He was the greatest.... . . . . I ' v e got a women way over town...who's good to me.......oh yeahhhhhhhhh h h h h h h ! ! ! !
dragonlady60 8 8
georgia..... . . . . . . . ! " ! ! ! ! ! ! !
dragonlady60 8 8
ray....u r missed..xoxo x o rip
dragonlady60 8 8
my fave song by ray....named my cat georgia
Mr. Charles was a true legend. Georgia On My Mind is one of the single finest recordings ever.
oh man...good!! ! !
LIKE !!!
G.BABY nice piece ray made
Love my Ray!
carrielinare s
HIT THE ROAD JACK! Said by a ten year old
Come live with me....damn Ray!
sandywesley
nuin unions non.
marilynbarne l l
I met him Great!!!
N
I'm
LFhoo ig
I was fortunate to hear Ray in person 4 times. Had tickets for a 5th when he got sick and had to cancel his tour. I loved the man.
Mr.Ray Charles, the best in the business
Ray Charles, the only true genius in show business
- Frank sinatra
Georgia on my mind is soooo sweet
Ray Charles... one of the original kings
Some times you need to chill
Wha?
Pleas use me up
U no it!
When you talk greatness, hear no further. The Great Ray Charles. Hands Down!!
Yeah
# r b # soul # =��happiness
Marvin Gaye is the best legend
THERE GOES MY SONG GEORGIA ON MY MIND
I love Georgia on my mind so cool!!!!!!!! ! ; ) ; ) ; ) : )
Now This Is What I'm Talking About. And Genius Loves Company
I apologize for calling you fool.
cgcoon, need guidance, simply ask. ok? Cool.
Got it cgcoon?
Type in Tony Bennet in the New Station bar Fool! Create a station for that era of music (Tony Bennet Station), and click on the Similar Artists, then click Like. I like Bennet, Sinatra and more from those days too.
cgcoon
Play more Tony Bennet
Ray Charles is one of my favorite
Ray Charles one of my Favorite!!!! ! See him in San Francisco Ca , in 1962!!!!
Ray was the man....hard times!
Saw ray in radio city, new york
gardenofmone y
only RAY CHARLES can sing this like on other. incredible outstanding talent. hats off to you Mr. Ray.
Never thought of Ray being black. just one fantastic singer that everybody loved.Never heard anything but good about this man.No one ever could sing (Georgia on my mind) like Ray.R.I.P.
i seen him in virgina in 1960 when i was statoned at fort eutius, at the perrmint lounce
susannickol
I heard Georgia sung by others but they are no ray Charles!!!!
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