Ray Charles was one of the greatest musicians of all time. He embodied the term genius, for there was hardly a music genre in which he did not excel, whether gospel, blues, rock, country, or soul (Inductees pp). By combining the elements of gospel and blues, Charles created what came to be known as soul music (Inductees pp). During the 1950's, while signed with Atlantic Records, he broke down the barriers between sacred and secular music and fostered "a crossover between gospel music and the rhythm patterns of the blues" (Inductees pp). Over the decades, Charles also used elements of country and western, as well as big-band and jazz into his music (Inductees pp). Ray Charles is considered to be "as complete and well-rounded a musical talent as this century has produced" (Inductees pp).
Ray Charles Robinson was born in 1930 in Albany, Georgia, but grew up in Greenville, Florida (Ray pp). When Charles was six years old he began losing his sight from glaucoma after traumatically watching his brother drown in the washtub his mother used for laundry (Ray pp). At the age of seven, he enrolled in the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind where he studied piano, clarinet and alto saxophone, composed for big bands, and learned to read and write music in Braille (Ray pp). He stayed at St. Augustine for eight years and in 1945, at the age of fifteen, Charles was orphaned, he then bean performing in local bands around Florida (Ray pp). In 1948, with $600 savings, he moved to Seattle and formed the Maxim Trio, a group "grounded in the style of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown (Ray pp). The following year the Trio had a major R& B. hit with 'Confession Blues' on the Downbeat label (Ray pp). During the early 1950's Charles toured with blues artist Lowell Fulson and had R& B. hits with 'Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand,' and 'Kiss Me Baby' on Los Angeles-based Swingtime Label, then in 1952 Atlantic Records bought his recording contract from Swingtime for $2,500 (Ray pp).
Charles abandoned the Nat King Cole style and began adapting gospel music techniques to blues lyrics and soon had a hit with 'It Should Have Been Me' and by 1954 he had formed his own band (Ray pp). That same year he also arranged and played piano on Guitar Slim's top R& B. hit 'The Things I Used to Do' for Specialty Records and in 1955 had a hit in both the R& B. And pop fields with his own composition 'I've Got A Woman' (Ray pp).
Working with top studio musicians Charles consistently had hits on the R& B. charts throughout the late 1950's with 'A Fool for You,' Drown In My Own Tears,' Hallelujah I Love Her So,' and Lonely Avenue, the recording debut of his female backup group the Raelettes (Ray pp). This is also the era of Charles' "feverish call-and-response classic 'What'd I Say,' all sung in his gruff, soulful voice and accompanied by the "percussive punctuations of his piano and the horn section (Inductees pp). The release of this top R& B. hit established Charles as a popular recording artist and a pioneer of soul music (Ray pp).
Since Atlantic was still basically an R& B. organization, Charles moved to ABC-Paramount Records in late 1959 and through 1961 had top pop hits with 'Georgia on My Mind,' 'Hit the Road Jack,' 'Ruby,' and 'Unchain My Heart' (Ray pp). Charles also recorded Genius + Soul = Jazz for Impulse, an ABC jazz subsidiary label, "yielding a near smash pop/top R& B. hit with the instrumental 'One Mint Julip'" (Ray pp). This album and one he recorded with Betty Carter for ABC-Paramount made Charles increasingly popular with both black and white jazz fans (Ray pp).
In 1962 Charles formed Ray Charles Enterprises, comprised of Tangerine Records, Tangerine Music, and Racer Music Company, and opened studios and offices in Los Angeles in 1963 (Ray pp). Also in 1962 Charles "claimed the unlikeliest of genres as his own with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, and album that topped the Billboard chart for 14 weeks (Inductees pp). By this time he was recording with forty piece orchestras and full vocal choruses, and the phenomenal popularity of this album produced crossover smashes such as 'I Can't Stop Loving You,' 'Born to Lose,' and 'You Don't Know Me' (Ray pp). The following year Charles released second volume with crossover hits, 'You Are My Sunshine,' 'Your Cheating Heart,' and Take These Chains From My Heart' (Ray pp). With ABC Charles had major hits with 'Busted,' 'That Lucky Old Sun,' 'Crying Time,' and 'Together Again' (Ray pp).
Charles became involved in films during the 1960's and appearing the 1962 film "Swinging Along" and the 1966 British film "Ballad in Blue (Ray pp). He also recorded the soundtracks for the movies, "The Cincinnati Kid" and "In the Heat of the Night" (Ray pp). During this era, Charles performed on the nightclub circuit, touring with his own package revue from 1969 into the 1970's (Ray pp).
In 1973 Charles left ABC Records, retaining the rights to his ABC material and transferring his Tangerine operation to the new label Crossover, and in 1976 recorded Porgy and Bess with Cleo Laine for RCA Records (Ray pp). He returned to Atlantic in 1977, moved to Columbia in the 1980's and to Warner Brothers in the 1990's, recording My World with Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Mavis Staples, and June Porter in 1993 (Ray pp).
Dial Press published his autobiography in 1978 and in 1980 Charles appeared in "The Blues Brothers" movie and scored a minor country hit with a duet with Clint Eastwood, 'Beers to You' from the movie "Any Which Way You Can" (Ray pp). In 1982 he had a major country hit with 'Born to Love Me' and later recorded duets with country stars on Friendship, and album that yielded five country hits, including 'We Didn't See a Thing' with George Jones, 'Seven Spanish Angels' with Willie Nelson and 'Two Cats Like Us' with Hank Williams Jr. (Ray pp). Charles had his first major pop hit in over twenty years with 'I'll Be Good to You' in 1989 and during the 1990'2 Charles appeared in commercials for Pepsi and was the subject of a PBS documentary (Ray pp).
Ray Charles was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1982 and into the Rock and Roll's Hall of Fame in its inaugural year 1986 (Ray pp).
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was perhaps one of Ray Charles' most memorable albums. Its lushly produced tone provided Charles with a high-profile crossover hit and expanded his musical genre (Modern pp). With ABC-Paramount, he had a "full artistic freedom clause" in his contract and took full advantage of it for this remarkable collection of country music standards (Modern pp).
The album includes songs from the 1930's to the early 1960's, and from such writers as Hank Williams to Don Gibson (Modern pp). The twelve tracks touch on old fare, as with Floyd Tillman's 'It Makes No Difference to Me Now', three honky tonk songs by Williams and early 'country-politan" with Don Gibson's 'I Can't Stop Loving You' which went number one on the charts (Modern pp). Singles of Gibson's song, along with Eddy Arnold's 'You Don't Know Me', which charted number two, helped to keep the album at the top of the pop charts for almost three months and boosted Charles to international fame (Modern pp).
"Above a mix of swinging big band charts by Gerald Wilson and strings and choir backdrops from Marty Paich, Charles' intones the sleepy-blue nuances of country crooners while still giving the songs a needed kick with his gospel outbursts" (Modern pp).
"You Don't Know Me"
"You Don't Know Me" is a haunting and lyrical tune. As with all the cuts on this album, country music never sounded so good. Charles' phrasing truly sounds as if his heart is breaking. He moans "You give your hand to me, and then you say hello," and then his voice rises with the next line, "and I can hardly speak, my heart is beating so," then drops back to an aching tone, "and anyone can tell, you think you know me well, but you don't know me." Although Charles has a full orchestra and chorus behind him, neither over power his vocals and the entire piece, especially the string section, is very pleasing to the ear.
"Born to Lose"
The lyrics of "Born to Lose" are very poetic and very depressing at the same time. Charles bellows mournfully, "I've lived my life in vain, every dream has only brought me pain." This piece is not as impressive as other cuts on the album. There are no outstanding orchestra solos, however, Charles' vocals are excellent as usual.
"I Can't Stop Loving You"
"I Can't Stop Loving You" is a wonderful vehicle for Charles' voice,…