This is Part 3 of a five-part video series on Ray Charles. Go to Part 1 for an explanation of the series concept and links to all episodes, and watch Part 3 below.
Ray Charles’ first major label was Atlantic Records, where he found his voice. “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “I Got a Woman,” “What’d I Say”—in these and a couple dozen more seminal recordings he combined blues, jazz, and gospel to virtually invent the soul music side of rock and roll. The gospel part scandalized the church, but Charles pressed on. He was no longer just a Nat Cole imitator or a blues shouter.
After he left Atlantic he continued to make iconic American music, especially “Georgia on My Mind,” “America,” and the songs on two volumes of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music; but it was probably the Atlantic recordings that made him part of the very first class of inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Chuck Berry, James Brown, Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, Elvis, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly joined Ray as the first ten performers inducted, along with three great precursors—Robert Johnson, Jimmie Rodgers, and Jimmy Yancey—and three others—Sam Phillips, John Hammond, and Alan Freed—who produced, “discovered,” and DJ-ed the music. (Go Here for a list of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.)
The video below contains short excerpts from several of those Atlantic recordings, and a little longer one from “Tell the Truth,” performed at an important concert in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1959. Greil Marcus called “Georgia” the “ultimate ballad, “What’d I Say” the “ultimate rhythmic statement,” and “Drown in My Own Tears” the “ultimate defeat.” It’s tempting to call “Tell the Truth” the “ultimate truth,” but we’ll hold off for now. For sure, though, it shows how Ray Charles could erupt, could break through the bonds even of an already-edgy music, a music on the verge of challenging so many American truths and conventions.
♦ Go to the Lead Post in the Me & Brother Ray video series.
♦ Go to a post listing All Things Ray on this site.
♦ Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY main page.