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Ray Charles: remembering the man who had music in his blood

Ray Charles, who died recently, was born in 1930 on the border between Florida and Georgia.

Issue No. 1926


Director: Taylor Hackford

Genius Loves Company

Ray Charles and guests

Ray Charles, who died recently, was born in 1930 on the border between Florida and Georgia.

At five he failed to save his only brother from drowning in a washtub. Glaucoma robbed him of his sight at seven, and he was sent to a racially segregated blind boarding school.

At ten his father died and then, at 15, his mother. How could any of us have coped? But Ray Charles Robinson had one chance: “Music was one of my parts… like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene.”

He used Braille to decipher and memorise the few classical music scores available on the black side of his school buildings.

Ray went on to subvert racial divisions through the racial Jim Crow laws’ inability to segregate airwaves. Black or white could tune in to the same stations, even if they couldn't eat in the same diners or drink from the same fountains.

Ray’s breakthrough came with “I Got A Woman”. A succession of hits followed, including “The Right Time”, “What’d I Say”, “Georgia” and “Hit The Road Jack”.

In the late 1960s Ray supported Martin Luther King’s fight against racial segregation. But he was reluctant to march with King: “I wouldn’t have known when to duck when they started throwing broken bottles at my head.”

When King was arrested Ray helped raise money for his legal costs.

Film director Taylor Hackford had waited over 15 years to find the right lead actor to realise his dream of producing a Ray Charles biopic. In his dying last months the real man was able to tutor his screen double, Jamie Foxx, in “Ray”.

The result is a performance of such stunning likeness that no better epitaph could have been written.

By marked contrast Genius Loves Company is a pathetic musical finale. Ray sounds like he is singing with no teeth. Despite the well meaning participation of a host of vocalists, this CD really should never have passed quality control.

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Sat 6 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1926
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