Friday Five: Ray Charles

Ken Morton, Jr. | September 23rd, 2011

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.



  1. BLL
    September 23, 2011 at 11:45 am

    ‘Born to Lose’ gets me every time.

  2. Barry Mazor
    September 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    “You Don’t Know Me” Ray style always gets to me.,

  3. J.R. Journey
    September 23, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Of all the singers I’ve heard tackle “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, Ray Charles’ recording remains my favorite. Great stuff.

  4. Dave W.
    September 23, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Great videos of Ray! Enjoyed them very much. Love the site.

  5. Rick
    September 23, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    I’d probably have to go with Ray’s version of “Georgia On My Mind” as my favorite. Talk about making a song your own! Crikey!

    Don Gibson wrote some great songs in his heyday but his voice was limited and the production of his albums tended to be sparse and sound somewhat hollow (especially in the 50’s). It took Ray to fully realize the power of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” in all its glory. They sure don’t make song stylists like that any longer…

  6. Paul W Dennis
    September 24, 2011 at 9:18 am

    1 Georgia On My Mind
    2 Take These Chains (From My Heart)
    3 I Can’t Stop Loving You
    4 Mess Around
    5 Hallelejah I Love Her So

  7. Barry Mazor
    September 24, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Hey, if we’re choosing from outside Ray’s country material, the thumbs up are endless. If anybody here’s never heard or had the whole “Ray Charles: The Complete Country & Western Recordings 1959-1986″ box set, it’s essential. Brother Ray’s turns on country affected ideas about production and sounds in country music ever after. And when a Hank song comes up (Take These Chains, as Paul called, and the first thing that comes to mind is not Hank’s but somebody else’s version, your in high country waters..

  8. Paul W Dennis
    September 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    The thread didn’t specify Country, although I could have picked “Born To Lose” and “Busted” without lowering the quality of my list

    Truthfully, through about 1970, Ray didn’t record anyhting I didn’t like – after that it was more hit and miss

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