Today is the anniversary of singer and songwriter Ray Charles’ death back in 2004. So for this Remember Whensday, we remember the man who was the catalyst for the gospel movement, and soul music generally, really all throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and whose music will continue to inspire music and songwriters for many years to come.
Though Ray Charles was phenomenal throughout his entire career, I’d like to highlight two things he did here: he pretty much created a genre of music, or at least brought it to the mainstream for all of us to enjoy, but the gears of racial integration in the 1950s and 1960s started turning thanks to him.
Charles molded together blues, gospel, and a dash of jazz to create his signature style and the soul genre. You can hear it in all of his songs, particularly in his singles “Unchain My Heart,” “Hit the Road Jack” and “Georgia on My Mind.” He brought sex, ladies, and all other taboo topics at the time to gospel music. As he moved his way up on the R&B charts, fellow musicians began to see that this was a musical prodigy. He was a genius because he had the ability to blend R&B with the common pop at the time, which really was the key to his success. He also did what was never done before and created soul interpretations of bluegrass and county classics.
Finally, he was the first black artist to receive so much recognition and popularity at such a quick pace, unfortunately for working twice as hard as his fellow white competitors. So the next time you hear any R&B, soul, or blues remember that their roots go back to Ray Charles and they wouldn’t be on the radio, were it not for his success and perseverance.