When Ray Charles left our midst in June 2004, he left his influence on seven decades of popular music. That’s seven. Decades. Think about that. For the better part of three generations, this man’s music was influenced by, and influenced in turn, Rhythm & Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Rock, and Country. Thus, while the late twentieth century may boast scores of brilliantly talented artists, none had a broader appeal than Ray Charles.
Blind since childhood, Charles used the medium of music and the instrument of his rough-hewn, expressive voice to convey a powerful inner vision, revealing the deepest longings of the human soul, and illuminating its highest aspirations. The broad smile beneath the dark sunglasses and the rhythmic swaying behind the piano keyboard were more than just iconic images, they were manifestations of the man’s sincerity. When he sang it, you could believe it, whether he was giving his heart to Georgia (the woman, the state, the distinction is moot), or giving poor old Jack the heave-ho. Even when he was selling cola, you got the feeling that he honestly felt his brand was worth singing about.
The most important aspect of Ray Charles’ music, however, were the songs. What’d I Say. Let the Good Times Roll. I
Can’t Stop Loving You. His songs were timeless classics, every one; standards for the ages. They had heart, they had soul. They rocked, whether in the sense of jubilant abandon or tender embrace. They were charged with a smoldering energy that came roiling down like lava, and which continues to crackle and flow all these many years later, even after the great mountain has fallen silent.