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Ray Charles: Genius & Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection

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It’s hard to believe, but Ray Charles has been around for some 50 years. So ubiquitous that he’s positively ethereal, he’s been the stealth gene in this country’s cultural DNA, subtly infecting our collective conscious/subconscious with his revolutionary musical visions. No doubt, in a non-Ray Charles parallel universe, there would be no Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Milsap, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls or even gospel wunderkind Kirk Franklin. With the five-CD Genius & Soul, anthology specialists Rhino have done the near impossible-definitively cracking the cipher of perhaps the greatest musical fusionist of the 20th century.

Grandiose hyperbole?-I think not. Born in Albany, GA on September 23, 1930, Ray grew up poor in Greenville, FL (the proverbial “Hard Time, Mississippi”). Between the ages of five and fifteen, he was taught piano at a segregated(!) school for the blind in St. Augustine. His mother’s death curtailed his studies, for the next three years he made his bones throughout Florida’s TOBA (Tough On Black Asses) circuit. At the age of 18, Ray emigrated to Seattle. In Seattle, his music flourished-he wrote charts for his trio as well as for big band (he met lifelong bud Quincy Jones there). As his live rep grew, the pianist came to the attention of Jack Lauderdale, the owner of the LA-based Swingtime label. CD one begins with Charles’ recordings for the label, the self-penned “Confession Blues” (1948) and “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” (1949). Over the next four years, Ray would tour the country as bluesman Lowell Fulson’s music director-arranger until Ahmet Ertegun signed him to a solo contract with nascent R&B power Atlantic Records in 1952. His first six singles for the label reveal an artist searching for his sound, trying to overcome the influence of his idols Nat King Cole and Charles Brown, stretching the conventions of jazz, R&B to fit his inner groove. Charles’ seventh single “I’ve Got A Woman” (1954-#1 R&B) with its orchestral jazz-fueled heretical synthesis of gospel fervor and earthy secularity would not only determine the course of R&B’s future, it would give his muse the license to kill.

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