Friday, September 23, 2011

Today Is Ray Charles' Birthday

Ray Charles was born on September 23, 1930.  Below is the piece I wrote last May.

The Rare Genius Of Ray Charles 

I was a cub scout for one year in third grade.  My cub scout troop didn't learn how to be in nature or how to pitch a tent or even how to tie knots.  Our big trip was not to the lake or the mountains but to Radio City Music Hall to see the Ed Sullivan Show.  Ed did have a "really big show" that day.  His special guest was Ray Charles.  After the taping, all the scouts got to shake hands with Ray.  I have no recollection of  his performance, but I do remember the feeling that I was shaking hands with greatness.

You think I'd remember that.  Anyway, I got to see Ray Charles live again about 30 years later at Lincoln Center, when I was far more aware of what a singularly remarkable talent he was.  Van Morrison said:  "His sound was stunning - it was blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing - it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing."

Ray Charles died in 2004, but last year a new Ray Charles album was released:  Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters.  Producer John Burk discovered hundreds of unreleased masters and chose ten, spanning the 1970s to 1990s.  Burk has said that the tracks were narrowed down to songs that felt connected like an album.

One big caveat is that many of the tunes were incomplete or unfinished so Burk brought in studio musicians to finalize the tracks.  While I was initially skeptical about this posthumous augmentation, upon listening to the record my doubts vanished.  As one reviewer put it, "This is no re-release, compilation or collection of rarities that might have appeared somewhere a long time ago.  "It really does sound like a new Ray Charles album.    And it provides only the latest example of Ray Charles "as the genius he was."


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