is Doug Johnson with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we begin a two-part report about
singer, songwriter, and musician Ray Charles.
His work will continue to have a lasting influence on American music.
Charles spent almost sixty years as a professional musician. Millions of people around the world enjoy
his recordings. If Ray Charles only
played the piano, he would have been considered one of the best. If he had only sung his music, his voice
would have made him famous. If he had
only played jazz music, the world would have listened. But Ray Charles did all these things and
He played and sang rock-and-roll and
rhythm-and-blues songs. He sold
millions of country and western records, too.
His work brought together different kinds of music and different kinds
of music fans. His influence on much of
America's popular music cannot be truly measured.
(MUSIC: "One Mint Julep")
Ray Charles and "One Mint Julep." He
recorded that song in nineteen sixty-one on an album called "Genius Plus Soul
Equals Jazz." It is one of the many
hundreds of records he recorded.
Charles Robinson was born in nineteen thirty in Albany, Georgia. When he was six years old, he began to
suffer from the eye disease glaucoma.
The disease made him blind. He
left the world of sight forever and turned to the world of sound. He learned to love sounds, especially music
of all kinds.
Charles taught himself to play the organ, alto saxophone, clarinet and
trumpet. Yet there was a special
relationship between him and the piano.
Here is part of the song "Worried Mind." The style is country and western, with a heavy influence of
blues. Listen to his work on the piano,
an instrument he truly loved. You can
almost see him smiling.
Charles was fifteen years old when his mother died. Within a year, he had left school to work. He began playing piano professionally in
African American eating and drinking places in the state of Florida.
later, he moved to the opposite corner of America: Seattle, Washington. While in Seattle, he made forty
records. But none was a success.
time, Ray Charles was trying to play the piano and sing like the famous
performer Nat King Cole. But he quickly
learned there was only one Nat King Cole.
No one wanted to hear a copy, not even a good copy.
Charles started looking for his own musical sound. He began to experiment.
He tried mixing blues and jazz.
He used some jazz styles with the music that later was known as
rock-and-roll. His experiments soon
became popular with many black Americans.
played at dances around the country. He
also sold some records, mostly to black people. Few white Americans had heard of a blind musician named Ray
middle of the nineteen fifties, he had his own band. It was one of the most popular black dance bands in the
country. A group of women sang with the
One night, Charles began playing a simple
song. He told the women to sing in a
style known as call and response. In
this style, the lead singer asks a question or sings some words. The other singers answer. This kind of singing was brought to America
by black slaves from Africa. It has
remained very popular in black church music.
dance that night, Ray Charles put together simple piano music, traditional call
and response and rock-and-roll. The
result was a revolution in American music.
Soon after, Ray recorded that song. It is called "What'd I Say?"
"What'd I Say?" sold millions of
copies. Ray Charles no longer just
played at small dances for black people.
He performed in large theaters for big audiences of every color. He had found a sound like no other. His style of music was filled with
excitement. And those who listened shared
in that excitement.
end of the nineteen fifties, Ray Charles had recorded many hit songs. Most of his music was black rhythm-and-blues
or soul music. Yet white Americans were
did not want to play just one kind of music, even if it was extremely
popular. He began experimenting again,
this time with jazz. One album, "Black
Coffee," is considered by experts to be one of his very best jazz
recordings. It shows that his piano
work can express many different feelings.
Here is the song "Black Coffee" from that album.
continued to make rhythm-and-blues and jazz records. But that was still not enough for him. He had always loved country-and-western music. So he decided to record a country album.
Music industry experts said he was making a
mistake. They told him not to do
it. They said he would lose many
fans. The fans, they said, would not
understand or like this kind of music.
Ray Charles did not listen to the experts. He took a chance. And he was right. The public loved his country-and-western songs. You can hear some of these
country-and-western songs next week, when we bring you the second part of our
report about Ray Charles.
(MUSIC: "Making Whoopee")
program was written by Paul Thompson.
It was produced by Lawan Davis.
I'm Doug Johnson.
Faith Lapidus. Join us next week for
the second part of our program on Ray Charles on People In America, in VOA