Friday Five: Ray Charles
Born on this date in 1930, Ray Charles wasn’t supposed to be a music icon, let alone a country music one. The odds were certainly stacked against him. He was born to a poor African-American family and lost his sight at the age of seven. He was sent to a home for the deaf and blind and then lost his father at ten and his mother at fifteen. But music was his rescue and after his first hit record at the tender age of nineteen, he would go on to become a legend in soul, rhythm and blues, pop and rock and roll genres. It’s no wonder why Billboard Magazine named him as one of the ten most important artists of all time.
But it was his foray into country music that this column touches on. Right in the middle of the civil rights movement, just after the Freedom Rides and as President Kennedy was sending troops to Mississippi to desegregate the schools, Ray Charles was doing something remarkable. The 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, did something revolutionary. His popularity not only helped to bring country into the mainstream of music, but it helped put a new face on what country music could be. On piano keys, he opened the world to country music, and, in a small way, opened country music to the world.
Today’s Friday Five is dedicated to the birthday boy, the man Frank Sinatra called the “Genius of Soul.” What is your favorite Ray Charles track?
5. Ray Charles & Willie Nelson — “Seven Spanish Angels”
Lovers. Gunfights. Classic country perfection.
4. Ray Charles & Johnny Cash — “Why Me, Lord”
Originally recorded back in 1981 and produced by Billy Sherrill, this fun duet didn’t see the light of day until it was released in 2010—well after both artists passed away.
3. Ray Charles — “I Can’t Stop Loving You”
Don Gibson hit #7 with this single in 1958 and Kitty Wells hit #3 with it the same year. But Ray Charles took it to number one several years later across three different genre charts- all simultaneously.
2. Ray Charles — “Ring of Fire”
Charles applies a little rhythm and blues to the legendary “Ring of Fire” here in a live performance in a 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show.
1. Ray Charles — “Your Cheatin’ Heart”
Charles makes a little magic with one of Hank Williams’ most iconic hits.
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