First up: Brother Ray...
"Hit the road Jack" - 1958- Ray Charles
FROM THE PANOPTICON REVIEW ARCHIVES
This is a curiously schizophrenic, self-serving, and ultimately shallow book. On the one hand it proposes to provide readers with a broad general outline of the ‘artistic history’ of John Coltrane’s career and on the other critically examine his ongoing impact and influence, musical and extramusical, on both his contemporaries and subsequent generations of musicians since his early death at the age of forty in 1967.
Throughout, the author--Ben Ratliff, Jazz critic for the New York Times—engages in a highly digressive commentary on what he thinks Coltrane’s career as player, composer, and cultural avatar means to the history of Jazz and to our understanding and appreciation of an individual American aesthetic and cultural icon.
However, these otherwise laudable, useful, and intriguing ambitions are seriously marred by Ratliff’s intellectually reductive presumptions about both the music he proposes to critique and examine and the cultural philosophy of the individual creative personality he wants to portray. The major source of Ratliff’s analytical flaws and blind spots (which are considerable) lies with his studied quasi-philosophical over-reliance and even lazy intellectual dependency on an empirical framework that consistently reduces profound and unsettling questions of aesthetic, cultural and expressive identity and philosophy to almost rudimentary descriptions and examinations of the largely academic categories of style, formal structure, method, and technique(s). Thus we are treated to quite a bit of admittedly lucid but predominately expository writing about how and why Coltrane’s music differs in cosmetic terms from that of other musical styles, traditions, forms, and genres in Western music particularly of the United States and Europe. However, the much broader and more specific historical, social, cultural, ideological, economic, and political contexts of Coltrane’s music (and persona) as it was actually created, produced, marketed, distributed and consumed in the society he and his music lived/lives in is either ignored or given very short shrift in Ratliff’s analysis.
Ratliff’s annoying and often condescending tendency to churlishly dismiss or discount the significance of the central historical roles that political economy, racism, and most importantly, competing cultural and aesthetic philosophies have played and continue to play in both the creative and social ecosphere of Jazz is a major weakness in a book that almost coyly demands that we accept, if not embrace, its highly problematic fundamental premises. These premises are the following: That Coltrane was not primarily interested in expressing and supporting creatively provocative ideas and values per se but in obsessively pursuing matters of craft, stylistic expression, and technical prowess; that Coltrane was not really interested in the social, cultural, and political implications of what he was playing or the form and content of the highly varied reactions of audiences to what he was playing and why; that the 1960s ‘black power’ movement had a negative or distorting effect on the study, appreciation, and understanding of what the complex musical evolution known as “late Coltrane” (1965-1967) meant to the artist and black and white American audiences alike. And that to fully grasp what Coltrane finally accomplished or was trying to do in his work one had to surrender to a romantic aesthetic notion rooted in the 19th century and later promulgated in the 20th century by the late modernist poet Robert Lowell (an aesthetic theory Ratliff suggestively paraphrases and appropriates for a historically different artistic and cultural context) that Coltrane and his music represented and embodied the “monotony of the sublime” found in other radical forms of American art making. Further Ratliff asserts that Coltrane was making a music of “his interior cosmos” and was finally consumed by a music of “meditation and chant” in the last years after December 1964 (and the pivotal appearance of Coltrane’s magnum opus composition suite ‘A Love Supreme’) until his death in July, 1967.
What Ratliff also fails to address and seriously investigate is the complex and varied receptions of, and responses to, this music by other musicians and the larger listening audience meant in terms of the history of Jazz up until the late 1960s (and by implication ever afterward). While Ratliff readily acknowledges and broadly surveys the intense chaotic volatility of art, society, and culture of that era (and Coltrane’s important, even mythic, participation in it) what he fails to provide is an informed analytical and theoretical critique of precisely why Coltrane, Jazz in general, and the larger society remained in a dire and fundamental conflict over what role the concept of “art” and its various uses and identities should or could be in the music. At one point Ratliff even mentions that as far as he knew Coltrane had never publicly used or uttered the word ‘art’ to describe what his music was about. I was hoping that Ratliff would subsequently examine what he thought this fact meant to his general analysis of Jazz as a musical aesthetic in the post-WWII period, but he simply chalked it up to Coltrane’s tendency toward verbal reticence in publicly talking about his music in openly intellectual terms and his personal indifference to categorical labeling. The result is a book that manages to raise important and previously neglected questions about the specific nature and identity of Coltrane’s work and his profound contributions to American music, while at the same time almost willfully refusing to take any discernible theoretical or ideological position(s) on what Ratliff himself as critic and historian thought Coltrane’s music and reputation represents.
It is Ratliff’s failure to seriously confront and intellectually engage the previously published critical literature on both Coltrane and Jazz of the 1955-1970 era that is most disapointing. Among this rather extensive body of texts is very important work by a number of African American intellectuals, historians, and critics like Dr. C.O. Simpkins (who wrote a major book on Coltrane as early as 1975—which Ratliff himself even curiously acknowledges as “one of the best Coltrane biographies” and then proceeds to say not one more word about), the late James Stewart who wrote a number of powerful and influential essays on Jazz of the 1960s and ‘70s, Bill Cole, prominent ethnomusicologist and former Professor of Music at Dartmouth College who wrote a seminal musical biography on Coltrane in 1976, the extraordinary poet and cultural historian A.B. Spellman, author of one of the most prescient books ever published on black avant-garde music ‘Four Lives in the BeBop Business’ (later titled ‘Black Music: Four Lives) in 1966, and finally one of the leading Jazz critics and historians in the entire modern canon of 20th century Jazz literature, the legendary poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, and activist Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones). It is especially revealing that when Ratliff does briefly mention Baraka’s work (he quotes part of a poem by him on Coltrane and also a small segment from an essay on Black nationalism in his art) he doesn’t really focus on Baraka as a music critic; rather he summarizes in a couple sentences what Baraka’s fundamental stance was in the late 1960s on the cultural and social uses and function of what black art is or could be. But tellingly Ratliff does not talk about or examine Baraka’s major Jazz criticism of this period (1964-1967) qua criticism. This omission is not merely incidental but goes to the heart of what Ratliff refuses to deal with generally in his text: the larger meaning of the contentious discourse raging then and now over what Coltrane and the so-called ‘Free-Jazz’ players and composers of the 1960s and ‘70s represented (and currently represents) to an understanding of the Jazz tradition and U.S. culture generally over the past century.
This is especially significant with respect to the philosophical acuity and depth of the major book of Jazz criticism that Baraka published in 1967 entitled ‘Black Music.’ Dedicated to ‘John Coltrane, the heaviest spirit’ this book, made up of formerly published magazine essays and articles comprises one of the most important statements ever conceived and written about the specific dynamics, formal and stylistic challenges, cultural theory, and ideological identity of the so-called black musical “avant garde” of the 1959-1967 era. Pivotal to this text’s visionary stance is the first essay from the book, which is quoted at the beginning of this review. “Jazz and the White Critic” published in 1963 and which initially appeared in Down Beat magazine, was a major advance in the history of Jazz criticism because it openly and courageously addressed one of the most important but largely ignored issues in the canonical history of Jazz writing—the contradiction and separation between the major black players of the music and the almost completely exclusive white writers and critics of the music. By raising questions about what this contradiction said and implied about Jazz music and its history as art, science, history, sociology, ideology, and political economy, Baraka revealed that what white critics said about the music, reflected intellectual, cultural, and personal biases that had to be acknowledged and taken serious account of.
Ironically, Ratliff as critic and historian ultimately avoids these and other related issues by insisting that the individual icon in Jazz (like Coltrane) is not only an indispensable touchstone in the music’s evolution but that even more importantly the bands that they and others lead are even more significant. As Ratliff puts it at the end of his study “The truth of Jazz is in its bands.” While this statement seems accurate enough on its surface with its philosophical emphasis on the time honored Western notion of the “artist” as being central to an understanding and appreciation of any cultural or aesthetic expression, it appears that Ratliff winds up failing to notice that Jazz is first and foremost a public, collective, collaborative, and thus social expression whose major focus is not merely on the players and composers involved but on the communities that it engages in any given cultural environment. Thus the role of the individual “genius” in the music’s identity and evolution is not the dominant one. Of course, the marketing and processed packaging of the individual musician (or ensemble) as readily available commodity in the economic context of the capitalist marketplace where commodities are routinely promoted, bought, and sold may give the distinct impression that the individual “great man or woman” is the most important driving force behind the music but that would be an ultimately false and greatly mistaken notion. Even with such astonishingly advanced and gifted players and composers as the late, great John Coltrane it would be far more accurate to suggest that actually “the truth of Jazz lies in its music.” As critic and historian Ratliff misses, neglects, or ignores this crucial point and his book (and his analysis of Coltrane) greatly suffers for it.
John Coltrane - Tenor Sax
McCoy Tyner - Piano
Jimmy Garrison - Bass
Elvin Jones - Drums
JOHN COLTRANE RECORDINGS ON VIDEO:
OLE: Recorded May 25, 1961
JOHN COLTRANE PLAYS THE BLUES
Recorded: February 2,1967
personnel: John Coltrane -- tenor saxophone, bells Rashied Ali -- drums
04 Jupiter variation
THE ECLECTIC GENIUS OF RAY CHARLES MUSIC ON VIDEO:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump up ^ "A Love Supreme: John Coltrane". abbeville.com.
Jump up ^ Porter, pp. 265–266.
Jump up ^ Mandel, Howard (January 30, 2008). "John Coltrane: Divine Wind". The Wire (221). Retrieved June 29, 2009.
Jump up ^ Porter, p. 292
Jump up ^ Porter, p. 290
Jump up ^ "ABC-Paramount Records Story", by David Edwards, Patrice Eyries, and Mike Callahan, Both Sides Now website, retrieved January 29, 2007.
Jump up ^ "Secret of John Coltrane's high notes revealed", Roger Highfield, The Telegraph, Sunday June 12, 2011
Jump up ^ Cole, Bill (2001). John Coltrane. New York. p. 158. ISBN 030681062X.
Jump up ^ Jessie Carney Smith (ed.). "John Coltrane". Gale (Cengage). Retrieved June 26, 2009.
Jump up ^ Lavezzoli, p. 281
^ Jump up to: a b c d e Lavezzoli, p. 286
^ Jump up to: a b Porter, pp. 5–6
Jump up ^ Lavezzoli, p. 270
Jump up ^ Weinstein, Norman C. (1993) A Night in Tunisia: Imaginings of Africa in Jazz, Hal Leonard Corporation, p. 61, ISBN 0-87910-167-9
Jump up ^ Porter, p. 61
^ Jump up to: a b Lavezzoli, p. 271
Jump up ^ Lavezzoli, pp. 272–273
Jump up ^ John Coltrane's liner notes to A Love Supreme, December 1964
Jump up ^ Lavezzoli, pp. 280–281
Jump up ^ Emmett G. Price III. "John Coltrane, "A Love Supreme" and GOD". allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved October 9, 2008.
Jump up ^ Lavezzoli, pp. 286–287
Jump up ^ Lavezzoli, p. 285: "Coltrane and one or two other musicians begin and end the piece by chanting in unison a verse from chapter nine ("The Yoga of Mysticism") of the Bhagavad Gita: Rites that the Vedas ordain, and the rituals taught by the scriptures: all these I am, and the offering made to the ghosts of the fathers, herbs of healing and food, the mantram, the clarified butter. I the oblation, and I the flame into which it is offered. I am the sire of the world, and this world's mother and grandsire. I am he who awards to each the fruit of his action. I make all things clean. I am Om!"
Jump up ^ Nisenson, p. 183
Jump up ^ Porter, p. 211
Jump up ^ "2009 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
Jump up ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
Jump up ^ "John Coltrane's Saxophones/ Benefit Auction /see description below". drrick.com. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
^ Jump up to: a b c Samuel G. Freedman, "Sunday Religion, Inspired by Saturday Nights", New York Times (December 1, 2007).
Jump up ^ Article "The Jazz Church" by Gordon Polatnick at www.elvispelvis.com
Jump up ^ "The Church of Saint Coltrane (1996)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
Jump up ^ "Alan Klingenstein". Huffington Post. 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2012-04-16.[dead link]
Jump up ^ 2004 BBC documentary on the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church at www.diverse.tv
Jump up ^ The Dancing Saints. Saint Gregory's of Nyssa Episcopal Church
Jump up ^ "John Coltrane The Case for Sainthood". St. Barnabas Episcopal Church website.
Lavezzoli, Peter (2006). The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-1815-5.
Nisenson, Eric (1995). Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80644-4.
Porter, Lewis (1999). John Coltrane: His Life and Music. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08643-X.
Further reading[edit source]
Kahn, Ashley (2003) . A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album. Elvin Jones. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-200352-2.
Simpkins, Cuthbert (1989) . Coltrane: A Biography. New York: Herndon House Publishers. ISBN 0-915542-82-X.
Thomas, J.C. (1975). Chasin' the Trane. New York: Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-80043-8.
Woideck, Carl (1998). The John Coltrane Companion. New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-864790-4.
External links[edit source]
Find more about John Coltrane at Wikipedia's sister projects
Media from Commons
Quotations from Wikiquote
Database entry Q7346 on Wikidata
Coltrane Church Website
1957 Carnegie Hall Performance in Transcription and Analysis
"John Coltrane". Find a Grave. Retrieved March 31, 2008.
Infography about John Coltrane
"John Coltrane: Images of Trane", Jazz Times, June 1997, Lee Tanner
John Coltrane House
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Bahia The Believer Black Pearls The Cats Cattin' with Coltrane and Quinichette Coltrane Dakar Interplay John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane The Last Trane Lush Life Settin' the Pace Soultrane Standard Coltrane Stardust Tenor Conclave Two Tenors Wheelin' and Dealin'
Blue Note albums
Blue Train Coltrane Time
The Avant-Garde Bags & Trane Coltrane Jazz Coltrane Plays the Blues Coltrane's Sound Giant Steps My Favorite Things Olé Coltrane
Africa/Brass Ascension Ballads Coltrane Cosmic Music Crescent Duke Ellington & John Coltrane Expression First Meditations Impressions Infinity Interstellar Space John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman The John Coltrane Quartet Plays Kulu Sé Mama A Love Supreme Meditations Om Stellar Regions Sun Ship Transition
With Wilbur Harden
Jazz Way Out Mainstream 1958 Tanganyika Strut
With Miles Davis
Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet Basic Miles 'Round About Midnight Workin' with The Miles Davis Quintet Steamin' with The Miles Davis Quintet Relaxin' with The Miles Davis Quintet Cookin' with The Miles Davis Quintet Miles Davis Quintet at Peacock Alley Milestones 1958 Miles Miles & Monk at Newport Kind of Blue Someday My Prince Will Come Jazz at the Plaza
With Thelonious Monk
The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings Monk's Music Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
Afro Blue Impressions Bye Bye Blackbird The European Tour Live at Birdland Live at the Half Note: One Down, One Up Live! at the Village Vanguard Live at the Village Vanguard Again! The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings Live in Japan Live in Paris Live in Seattle Newport '63 New Thing at Newport The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording The Paris Concert
Alternate Takes The Best of John Coltrane The Classic Quartet: The Complete Impulse! Recordings Coltrane for Lovers The Coltrane Legacy The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis with John Coltrane The Complete Prestige Recordings Countdown: The Savoy Sessions Dial Africa: The Savoy Sessions Feelin' Good Gleanings Gold Coast The Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings High Step The Major Works of John Coltrane Jupiter Variation Ken Burns Jazz: John Coltrane The Last Giant: Anthology Living Space To the Beat of a Different Drum Trane's Blues Trane's Modes
"Alabama" "Equinox" "Giant Steps" "Impressions" "Lazy Bird" "Moment's Notice" "Naima" "Ogunde"
The Church of Saint Coltrane The World According to John Coltrane Trane Tracks: The Legacy of John Coltrane
Coltrane changes Sheets of sound Ravi Coltrane Alice Coltrane Flying Lotus Dix Hills home Philadelphia house 5893 Coltrane asteroid John W. Coltrane Cultural Society Blues for Coltrane: A Tribute to John C
Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004) was an American singer-songwriter, musician and composer known as Ray Charles. He was a pioneer in the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records. He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his Modern Sounds albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Frank Sinatra called Charles “the only true genius in show business,” although Charles downplayed this notion.
The influences upon his music were mainly jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and country artists of the day such as Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, Charles Brown, and Louis Armstrong. His playing reflected influences from country blues, barrelhouse and stride piano styles
Rolling Stone ranked Charles number ten on their list of "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" in 2004, and number two on their November 2008 list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". In honoring Charles, Billy Joel noted: "This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley.
1 Early life: 1930–45
2 Career: 1946–2004
2.1 Early career
2.2 Atlantic Records
2.3 Crossover success
2.4 Commercial decline
2.5 Later years
4 Personal life
4.2 Substance abuse and legal issues
4.3 Other interests
12 External links
Early life: 1930–45[edit source]
Ray Charles Robinson was the son of Aretha (Williams) Robinson, a sharecropper, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman. Aretha was a devout Christian and the family attended the New Shiloh Baptist Church. When Ray was an infant, his family moved from Albany, Georgia, where he was born, to the poor black community on the western side of Greenville, Florida. In his early years, Charles showed a curiosity for mechanical things and he often watched the neighborhood men working on their cars and farm machinery. His musical curiosity was sparked at Mr. Wiley Pit's Red Wing Cafe when Pit played boogie woogie on an old upright piano. Pit would care for George, Ray's brother, so as to take the burden off Aretha. However, George drowned in Aretha's laundry tub when he was four years old. After witnessing the death of his brother, Ray would feel an overwhelming sense of guilt later on in life.
Charles started to lose his sight at the age of five and went completely blind by the age of seven, apparently due to glaucoma. He attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine from 1937 to 1945, where he developed his musical talent. During this time he performed on WFOY radio in St. Augustine. His father died when he was 10, his mother five years later.
In school, Charles was taught only classical music, but he wanted to play the jazz and blues he heard on the family radio. While at school, he became the school's premier musician. On Fridays, the South Campus Literary Society held assemblies where Charles would play piano and sing popular songs. On Halloween and Washington's birthday, the Colored Department of the school had socials where Charles would play. It was here he established "RC Robinson and the Shop Boys" and sang his own arrangement of "Jingle Bell Boogie." He spent his first Christmas at the school, but later the staff pitched in so that Charles could return to Greenville, as he did each summer.
Henry and Alice Johnson, who owned a store not unlike Mr. Pit's store in Greenville, moved to the French town section of Tallahassee, just west of Greenville; they, as well as Freddy and Margaret Bryant, took Charles in. He worked the register in the Bryants' store under the direction of their daughter Lucille. It's said he loved Tallahassee and often used the drug store delivery boy's motorbike to run up and down hills using the exhaust sound of a friend's bike to guide him. Charles found Tallahassee musically exciting too, and sat in with the Florida A&M University student band. He played with the Adderley brothers, Nat and Cannonball, and began playing gigs with the musical act "Lawyer Smith and his Band" in 1943 at the Red Bird Club and Deluxe Clubs in Frenchtown and roadhouse theaters around Tallahassee, as well as the Governor's Ball.
Charles left school after his mother died in 1946, when he was 15 years old. He moved to Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his mother. For over a year, he played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. Then he moved to Orlando, and later Tampa, where he played with a southern band called The Florida Playboys. This is where he began his habit of always wearing sunglasses, made by designer Billy Stickles.
Charles had always played for other people, but he wanted his own band. He decided to leave Florida for a large city, but Chicago and New York City were too big. After asking a friend to look at a map and note the city in the United States that was farthest from Florida, he moved to Seattle in 1947 (where he first met and befriended, under the tutelage of Robert Blackwell, a 14-year-old Quincy Jones) and soon started recording, first for the Down Beat label as the Maxin Trio with guitarist G.D. McKee and bassist Milton Garrett, achieving his first hit with "Confession Blues" in 1949. The song soared to No.2 on the R&B charts.
In 1950, he played in a Miami hotel, impressing Henry Stone, who recorded a Ray Charles Rockin' record which never became very popular. During his stay in Miami, Charles was required to stay in the segregated but thriving black community of Overtown. Stone later helped Jerry Wexler find Charles in St. Petersburg.
He joined Swing Time Records and under his own name ("Ray Charles" to avoid being confused with the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson) recorded two more R&B hits, "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" (No. 5) in 1951 and "Kissa Me Baby" (No. in 1952. The following year, Swing Time folded and Ahmet Ertegün signed him to Atlantic Records.
Charles' first recording session with Atlantic ("The Midnight Hour"/"Roll With my Baby") came in September 1952, although his last Swingtime release ("Misery in my Heart"/"The Snow is Falling") would not come until February 1953. He began recording jump blues and boogie-woogie style recordings as well as slower blues ballads where he continued to show the vocal influences of Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. "Mess Around" became Charles' first Atlantic hit in 1953 and he later had hits the following year with "It Should Have Been Me" and "Don't You Know". He also recorded the songs, "Midnight Hour" and "Sinner's Prayer". Some elements of his own vocal style showed up in "Sinner's Prayer", "Mess Around" and "Don't You Know".
Late in 1954, Charles recorded his own composition, "I Got a Woman", and the song became Charles' first number-one R&B hit in 1955 and brought him to national prominence. The elements of "I Got a Woman" included a mixture of gospel, jazz and blues elements that would later prove to be seminal in the development of rock 'n' roll and soul music. He repeated this pattern throughout 1955 continuing through 1958 with records such as "This Little Girl of Mine", "Drown in My Own Tears", "Lonely Avenue", "A Fool For You" and "The Night Time (Is the Right Time)".
While still promoting his R&B career, Charles also recorded instrumental jazz albums such as 1957's The Great Ray Charles. During this time, Charles also worked with jazz vibraphonist Milt Jackson, releasing Soul Brothers in 1958 and Soul Meeting in 1961. By 1958, Charles was not only headlining black venues such as The Apollo Theater and The Uptown Theater but also bigger venues such as The Newport Jazz Festival. It was at the Newport festival where he cut his first live album. In 1956, Charles recruited a young all-female singing group named the Cookies, and reshaped them as The Raelettes. Before then, Charles had used his wife and other musicians to back him up on recordings such as "This Little Girl of Mine" and "Drown In My Own Tears". The Raelettes' first recording session with Charles was on the bluesy-gospel inflected "Leave My Woman Alone".
See also: What'd I Say (song) and Modern Sounds in Country and Western Charles reached the pinnacle of his success at Atlantic with the release of "What'd I Say", a complex song that combined gospel, jazz, blues and Latin music and a song that Charles would later say he composed spontaneously as he was performing in clubs and dances with his small band. Despite some radio stations banning the song because of its sexually suggestive lyrics, the song became a crossover top ten pop record, Charles' first record to do so. Later in 1959, he released his first country song, a cover of Hank Snow's "Movin' On", and had recorded three more albums for the label including a jazz record (later released in 1961 as The Genius After Hours), a blues record (released in 1961 as The Genius Sings the Blues) and a traditional pop/big band record (The Genius of Ray Charles). The Genius of Ray Charles provided his first top 40 album entry where it peaked at No. 17 and was later held as a landmark record in Charles' career but Charles saw a bigger opportunity following his Atlantic contract expiring in the fall of 1959 when several big labels offered him record deals.
Choosing not to renegotiate his contract with Atlantic, Ray Charles signed with ABC-Paramount Records in November 1959, obtaining a much more liberal contract than other artists had at the time. Following the success of "What'd I Say" and The Genius of Ray Charles, ABC offered Charles a $ 50,000 annual advance, higher royalties than previously offered and eventual ownership of his masters — a very valuable and lucrative deal at the time. During his Atlantic years, Charles was heralded for his own inventive compositions, however, by the time of the release of the instrumental jazz LP Genius + Soul = Jazz (1960) for ABC's subsidiary label Impulse!, Charles had virtually given up on writing original material and had begun to follow his eclectic impulses as an interpreter.
With his first hit single for ABC-Paramount, Charles received national acclaim and a Grammy Award for the Sid Feller-produced "Georgia on My Mind", originally written by composers Stuart Gorrell and Hoagy Carmichael, released as a single by Charles in 1960. The song served as Charles' first work with Feller, who arranged and conducted the recording. Charles also earned another Grammy for the follow-up "Hit the Road Jack", written by R&B singer Percy Mayfield. By late 1961, Charles had expanded his small road ensemble to a full-scale big band, partly as a response to increasing royalties and touring fees, becoming one of the few black artists to crossover into mainstream pop with such a level of creative control. This success, however, came to a momentary halt in November 1961, as a police search of Charles' hotel room in Indianapolis, Indiana, during a concert tour led to the discovery of heroin in his medicine cabinet. The case was eventually dropped, as the search lacked a proper warrant by the police, and Charles soon returned his focus on music and recording.
The 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, helped to bring country into the mainstream of music. His version of the Don Gibson song, I Can't Stop Loving You topped the Pop chart for five weeks and stayed at No. 1 R&B for ten weeks in 1962. It also gave him his only number one record in the UK. In 1962, he founded his own record label, Tangerine Records, which ABC-Paramount promoted and distributed. He also had major pop hits in 1963 with "Busted" (US No. 4) and Take These Chains From My Heart (US No. . With the rise of younger soul performers such as James Brown, Otis Redding and Motown singers such as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and its own blind artist, Stevie Wonder, Charles' successes on the pop and R&B charts peaked after 1964 though he remained a huge concert draw.
In 1965, Charles' career halted after being arrested for a third time for heroin use. He agreed to go to rehab to avoid jail time. Charles kicked his habit at a clinic in Los Angeles. After spending a year on parole, Charles reemerged on the charts in 1966 with a series of hits composed with the fledgling team of Ashford & Simpson including the dance number, "I Don't Need No Doctor", "Let's Go Get Stoned", which became his first No. 1 R&B hit in several years, and "Crying Time", which reached No. 6 on the pop chart and later helped Charles win a Grammy Award the following March. In 1967, he had a top twenty hit with another ballad, "Here We Go Again".
Charles' renewed chart success, however, proved to be short lived and by the late 1960s his music was rarely played on radio stations. The rise of psychedelic rock and harder forms of rock and R&B music reduced Charles' radio appeal, as did his choosing to record pop standards and covers of then-modern day rock and soul hits—his earnings from owning his own masters taking away motivation to write new material. Most of his recordings between 1968 and 1973 evoked strong reactions—people either liked them a lot or disliked them a lot. Nonetheless, Charles continued to have an active recording career. Charles' 1972 album, Message from the People, included his unique gospel-influenced version of "America the Beautiful". In 1974, he left ABC Records and recorded several albums on his own Crossover Records label. His 1975 recording of Stevie Wonder's hit, "Living for the City" later helped Charles win another Grammy.
In 1977, he reunited with Ahmet Ertegun and re-signed to Atlantic Records where he recorded the album, True to Life. However, the label had now begun focusing on rock acts and some of the label's prominent soul artists such as Aretha Franklin were starting to be neglected. Charles stayed with his old label until 1980. In November 1977 he appeared as the host of NBC's Saturday Night Live. In April 1979, Charles' version of "Georgia On My Mind" was proclaimed the state song of Georgia. An emotional Charles performed the song on the floor of the state legislature. Though he notably supported the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1960s, Charles would be criticized for performing at South Africa's Sun City resort in 1981 during an international boycott of its apartheid policy.
In 1983, Charles signed a contract with Columbia Records and recorded a string of country albums. Charles also began having a string of country hits often with duet singers such as George Jones; Chet Atkins; B.J. Thomas; Mickey Gilley; Hank Williams, Jr.; and lifelong friend Willie Nelson, with whom he recorded the No. 1 country duet, "Seven Spanish Angels." Prior to the release of his first Warner release, Would You Believe, Charles made a return on the R&B charts with a cover of The Brothers Johnson's "I'll Be Good to You", a duet with his lifelong buddy Quincy Jones and singer Chaka Khan. The song hit number-one on the R&B charts in 1990 and won Charles and Khan a Grammy for their dual work. Prior to this, Charles returned on the pop charts in another duet, with singer Billy Joel on the song, "Baby Grand" and in 1989, recorded a cover of the Southern All Stars' "Itoshi no Ellie", releasing it as "Ellie My Love" for a Japanese TV ad for Suntory releasing it in Japan where it reached No. 3 on its Oricon chart. Charles' 1993 album, My World became his first album in some time to reach the Billboard 200 and his cover of Leon Russell's "A Song for You" gave him a charted hit on the adult contemporary chart as well as his twelfth and final Grammy he would receive in his lifetime.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Charles would reach younger audiences by appearances in various films and TV shows. In 1980, he appeared on the film, The Blues Brothers. While he never appeared on the show, Charles' version of "Night Time is the Right Time" was played during the popular Cosby Show episode "Happy Anniversary". In 1985, he appeared among a slew of other popular musicians in the USA for Africa charity recording, "We Are the World". Charles' popularity increased among younger audiences in 1991 after he appeared in a series of Diet Pepsi commercials where he popularized the catchphrase "You Got the Right One, Baby" The catchphrase came from a song that was composed by Kenny Ascher, Joseph C. Caro and Helary Jay Lipsitz.
Charles also appeared at two Presidential inaugurations in his lifetime. In 1985, he performed for Ronald Reagan's second inauguration, and in 1993 for Bill Clinton's first. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, Charles made appearances on the Super Dave Osbourne TV show, where he performed and appeared in a few vignettes where he was somehow driving a car, often as Super Dave's chauffeur. During the sixth season of Designing Women, Charles sang "Georgia on My Mind", instead of the song being rendered instrumentally by other musicians as in the previous five seasons. He also appeared in 4 episodes of the popular TV comedy The Nanny in Seasons 4 & 5 (1997 & 1998) as 'Sammy', in one episode singing "My Yiddish Mamma" to December romance and later fiancee of character Gramma Yetta, played by veteran actress Ann Guilbert. From 2001-2002, Charles appeared in commercials for the New Jersey Lottery to promote its "For every dream, there's a jackpot" campaign.
On October 28, 2001, several weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, Charles appeared during Game 2 of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees and performed "America the Beautiful".
In 2003, Ray Charles headlined the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C. where the President, First Lady, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice attended. He also presented one of his greatest admirers, Van Morrison, with his award upon being inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the two sang Morrison's song "Crazy Love". This performance appears on Morrison's 2007 album, The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3. In 2003, Charles performed "Georgia On My Mind" and "America the Beautiful" at a televised annual electronic media journalist banquet held in Washington, D.C.
His final public appearance came on April 30, 2004, at the dedication of his music studio as a historic landmark in the city of Los Angeles.
On March 15, 1961, not long after releasing the hit song "Georgia on My Mind" (1960), Charles (born in Albany, Georgia) was scheduled to perform for a dance at Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia. However, he cancelled after learning from students of Paine College that the larger auditorium dance floor would be restricted to whites, while blacks would be obligated to sit in the Music Hall balcony; he immediately left town after letting the public know why he wouldn't be performing. The promoter sued Charles for breach of contract, Charles was fined $757 in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta on June 14, 1962 and, according to the biopic Ray (2004), Charles was banned from performing thereafter in Georgia, although this later was reported to be a Hollywood embellishment—Charles was, in fact, never banned from Georgia. However, Charles performed again at a desegregrated Bell Auditorium concert the following year with his backup group, The Raelettes, on October 23, 1963.
In 1979, Charles was one of the first of the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame to be recognized as a musician born in the state. Ray's version of "Georgia On My Mind" was made the official state song for Georgia.
On December 7, 2007, Ray Charles Plaza was opened in Albany, Georgia, with a revolving, lighted bronze sculpture of Charles seated at a piano.
Personal life[edit source]
Ray Charles was married six times and had 12 children with nine different women. His first marriage to Eileen Williams was brief: July 31, 1951 to 1952. He had three children from his second marriage to Della Beatrice Howard Robinson from April 5, 1955 to April 26, 1977. His long-term girlfriend and partner at the time of his death was Norma Pinella. His first child, Evelyn, was born in 1950 to girlfriend, Louise Mitchell. His three children with Della, Ray Charles, Jr., David and Robert, were born in 1955, 1958 and 1960, respectively. Another son, Charles Wayne, was born in 1959 during his six-year-long affair with original Raelettes vocalist, Margie Hendricks. In 1961 a daughter, Raenee, was born during an affair with Mae Mosely Lyles. Two years later in 1963 Charles and Sandra Jean Betts welcomed daughter, Sheila Raye Charles Robinson. In 1966 a daughter, Alicia, was born by a woman who remains unidentified to this day, followed by another daughter, Alexandra, born to a woman named Chantal Bertrand. Charles' next child, Vincent, came from a relationship with Arlette Kotchounian following his divorce from Della Howard in 1977. Daughter, Robyn, was born a year later to a woman named Gloria Moffett. Charles' youngest child, son Ryan Corey, was born in 1987 to Mary Anne den Bok.
Charles gave 10 of his 12 children each a check for $1 million (USD) in December 2002 at a family luncheon, while the other two could not make it.
Substance abuse and legal issues
On November 14, 1961, Charles was arrested on a narcotics charge in an Indiana hotel room, where he waited to perform. The detectives seized heroin, marijuana and other items. Charles, then 31, 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, Charles's situation did not improve until a few years later. Individuals such as Quincy Jones and Reverend Henry Griffin felt that those around Charles were responsible for his drug use.
Charles played chess using a special board with holes for the pieces and raised squares. Charles referred to Willie Nelson as "my chess partner" in a 1991 concert. In 2002, he played and lost to American Grandmaster and former U.S. Champion Larry Evans.
Charles died on June 10, 2004, at 11:35 a.m. due to liver failure/hepatitis C at his home in Beverly Hills, California, surrounded by family and friends. He was 73 years old. His body was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery.
Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6777 Hollywood Blvd.
His final album, Genius Loves Company, released two months after his death, consists of duets with various admirers and contemporaries: B.B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, and Johnny Mathis. The album won eight Grammy Awards, including five for Ray Charles for Best Pop Vocal Album, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones, and Best Gospel Performance for "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight; he also received nods for his duets with Elton John and B.B. King. The album included a version of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow", sung as a duet by Charles and Johnny Mathis; this record was played at his memorial service.
Two more posthumous albums, Genius & Friends (2005) and Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006), were released. Genius & Friends consisted of duets recorded from 1997 to 2005 with his choice of artists. Ray Sings, Basie Swings consists of archived vocals of Ray Charles from live mid-1970s performances added to new instrumental tracks specially recorded by the contemporary Count Basie Orchestra and other musicians. Charles's vocals recorded from the concert mixing board were added to new accompaniments to create a "fantasy concert" recording.
Charles possessed one of the most recognizable voices in American music. In the words of musicologist Henry Pleasants:
"Sinatra, and Bing Crosby before him, had been masters of words. Ray Charles is a master of sounds. His records disclose an extraordinary assortment of slurs, glides, turns, shrieks, wails, breaks, shouts, screams and hollers, all wonderfully controlled, disciplined by inspired musicianship, and harnessed to ingenious subtleties of harmony, dynamics and rhythm... It is either the singing of a man whose vocabulary is inadequate to express what is in his heart and mind or of one whose feelings are too intense for satisfactory verbal or conventionally melodic articulation. He can’t tell it to you. He can’t even sing it to you. He has to cry out to you, or shout to you, in tones eloquent of despair — or exaltation. The voice alone, with little assistance from the text or the notated music, conveys the message"
Ray Charles is usually described as a baritone, and his speaking voice would suggest as much, as would the difficulty he experiences in reaching and sustaining the baritone's high E and F in a popular ballad. But the voice undergoes some sort of transfiguration under stress, and in music of gospel or blues character he can and does sing for measures on end in the high tenor range of A, B flat, B, C and ev in full voice, sometimes in an ecstatic head voice, sometimes in falsetto. In falsetto he continues up to E and F above high C. On one extraordinary record, "I’m Going Down to the River" . . . he hits an incredible B flat . . . giving him an overall range, including the falsetto extension, of at least three octaves.
In 1979, Charles was one of the first of the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame to be recognized as a musician born in the state. Ray's version of "Georgia On My Mind" was made the official state song for Georgia. In 1981, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was one of the first inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural ceremony in 1986. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986.
In 1987, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991, he was inducted to the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 1998 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize together with Ravi Shankar in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2004 he was inducted to the National Black Sports & Entertainment Hall of Fame. The Grammy Awards of 2005 were dedicated to Charles.
He was presented with the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, during the 1991 UCLA Spring Sing.
In 2003, Charles was awarded an honorary degree by Dillard University. Upon his death, he endowed a professorship of African-American culinary history at the school, which is the first such chair in the nation. A $20 million performing arts center at Morehouse College was named after Charles and was dedicated in September 2010.
The biopic Ray, released in October 2004, portrays his life and career between 1930 and 1979 and stars Jamie Foxx as Charles. Foxx won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Actor for the role.
On December 7, 2007, the Ray Charles Plaza was opened in his hometown of Albany, Georgia. The plaza features a revolving, lighted bronze sculpture of Charles seated at a piano and the plaza's dedication was attended by Charles' daughter, Sheila Raye Charles.
On August 4, 2013, in an interview with a Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet, former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters stated as “ I was about 15. In the middle of the night with friends, we were listening jazz. It was Georgia on My Mind’s Ray Charles version. Then I thought ‘One day, if I make some people feel only one twentieths of what I am feeling now, it will be quite enough for me.’ ”
The United States Postal Service issued a forever stamp honoring Ray Charles as part of it Musical Icons series on Septemnber 23, 2013.
Main article: Ray Charles discography
Swingin' Along (1961)
Ballad in Blue (1964)
The Big T.N.T. Show (1966) (documentary)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Limit Up (1989)
Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones (1990) (documentary)
Love Affair (1994)
Spy Hard (1996)
The Extreme Adventures of Super Dave (2000)
Blue's Big Musical Movie (2000)
Who's the Boss, episode "Hit the Road, Chad" (February 3, 1987) (himself)
The Nanny (1999) as Sammy
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External links[edit source]
Book: Ray Charles
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Ray Charles
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Ray Charles
Ray Charles Library on imusic.am
Article from the St. Augustine Record noting Charles' being on WFOY.
Ray Charles - Daily Telegraph obituary
Ray Charles discography at MusicBrainz
Ray Charles at RollingStone
Ray Charles at Songwriters Hall of Fame
Ray Charles at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Ray Charles at the Internet Movie Database
Ray Charles at AllMusic
Ray Charles discography at Discogs
Ray Charles autobiography: The Early Years 1930–1960
I Can't Stop Loving You: Ray Charles and Country Music - Past Exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Ray Charles's oral history video excerpts at the National Visionary Leadership Project
Ray Charles interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969).