Ray Charles (musician, born 1918)

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Ray Charles
A photo of Ray Charles in 2013
Charles in 2013
Background information
Birth nameCharles Raymond Offenberg
Also known asRay Charles
Born(1918-09-13) September 13, 1918 (age 95)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Years active1942–present
LabelsEssex
MGM
Decca
Command
Atlantic Records
Associated actsPerry Como
Your Hit Parade
The Big Show[disambiguation needed]
The Hollywood Palace
Glen Campbell
Sha Na Na
The Muppets
Kennedy Center Honors
 
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Ray Charles
A photo of Ray Charles in 2013
Charles in 2013
Background information
Birth nameCharles Raymond Offenberg
Also known asRay Charles
Born(1918-09-13) September 13, 1918 (age 95)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Years active1942–present
LabelsEssex
MGM
Decca
Command
Atlantic Records
Associated actsPerry Como
Your Hit Parade
The Big Show[disambiguation needed]
The Hollywood Palace
Glen Campbell
Sha Na Na
The Muppets
Kennedy Center Honors

Ray Charles (born Charles Raymond Offenberg, September 13, 1918 in Chicago, Illinois, United States) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, vocal arranger and conductor who is best known as organizer and leader of The Ray Charles Singers. The Ray Charles Singers were featured on Perry Como's records, radio shows and television shows for 35 years.[1][2] The Ray Charles Singers are also known for a series of 30 choral record albums produced in the 1950s and 1960s for Essex, MGM, Decca and Command labels.[3]

As a vocalist, Charles, along with Julia Rinker Miller, is known for singing the theme song to the television series Three's Company ("Come and Knock on Our Door").[4][5] As a songwriter, Charles is best known for the choral anthem "Fifty Nifty United States," in which he set the names of the states to music in alphabetical order. It was originally written for The Perry Como Show.[5] He is also known for "Letters, We Get Letters,"[6] also originally written for The Perry Como Show and later used on Late Show with David Letterman.[7]

At the age of 95 years, he continues to serve as a musical consultant to television programs, most notably for the last 31 years on the Kennedy Center Honors. Charles is acknowledged as an authority on American popular music. [8]

Biography[edit]

At the age of 13, Chuck Offenberg (as he was known then), won a contest to sing on the radio in Chicago. At 16, while still at Hyde Park High School, he had his own 15 minute radio program on WENR and won a vocal scholarship to the Chicago Musical College.

After graduation, he attended Central YMCA College, where he met fellow future choral director Norman Luboff, who was to become a lifelong friend. In 1936, Offenberg joined the Federal Theater show O Say Can You Sing, sharing a dressing room with the young Buddy Rich. In 1942, Offenberg, with his wife, Bernice and son, Michael, came to New York City and he started getting work, singing on the radio for Lyn Murray, Ray Bloch and other choral directors.[8] By 1944, he was doing 10 radio shows a week. In May 1944, Chuck Offenberg changed his name to Ray Charles. It would be 10 more years until the "other" Ray Charles changed his name from "Ray Charles Robinson" to Ray Charles.[9]

Close harmony was all the rage and Charles became the arranger and tenor for the "Double Daters," a quartet featured on Million Dollar Band.[10]

Drafted into the Navy in 1944, Charles was assigned to Hunter College, where he created an entire new music library for the WAVE choruses and trained the "Singing Platoons", three choruses of 80 WAVES each, on six week training cycles that sang on the radio, bond rallies and at local veterans hospitals. He also conducted the band on their two CBS weekly shows.

Discharged in 1946 Charles sang on New York radio ("Um Um Good" for Campbell's soups [11] among other gigs) and on many record dates. In 1947, he was the conductor for the Broadway hit Finian's Rainbow,[8] and conducted the original cast recording. Charles initially became associated with Perry Como in 1948 through his arrangements for the vocal group "The Satisfiers". The group performed on Como's The Chesterfield Supper Club.[10][12] From 1949 to 1951, he was choral arranger-conductor on "The Big Show", the last big radio variety show with Tallulah Bankhead and Meredith Willson.[13] Charles was also a soloist and sang in the choir on"Manhattan Merry-Go-Round","Tuesday on Broadway", "The Prudential Family Hour", "The Celenese Hour", "The Schafer Beer Program", "American Melody Hour", and he wrote the theme for Danny Kaye's "7-Up Radio Show".

Early television[edit]

Before it moved to L.A., Charles did some singing on Your Hit Parade radio show. In 1950, when the show came back to New York, he became the arranger and conductor of the Hit Paraders, the choral group on the show, first on radio and later when it went to television, for seven years.[8] Ironically, Charles never got screen credit for his work as arranger and choral director of The Hit Paraders because the sponsor of "Your Hit Parade" was Lucky Strike and Charles was already getting a choral director credit on "The Perry Como Chesterfield Show". Lucky Strike and Chesterfield were competitors 'The Perry Como Chesterfield Show' aired three times a week on CBS.[12][14]

For the next 35 years the Ray Charles Singers became a fixture on The Perry Como television show. It was a busy time with television’s top variety shows, records and commercial jingles.[10][12]In 1955, the 15 minute Perry Como Show moved back to NBC and became an hour-long program; Charles had an opportunity to work with and write special material for some of the great entertainers of the age: Ethel Merman, Kay Thompson, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, as well as composers Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren and others. Charles also worked with Nick Vanoff, Gary Smith, Dwight Hemion, Peter Matz, and Peter Gennaro. The talent that worked on The Perry Como Show at one time or another in its long history is remarkable. It was here where he met the "other" Ray Charles. The Screen Actors Guild, normally does not allow two members to have the same name, but Charles the performer was registered as Ray Robinson though he performed as Ray Charles. Charles the composer also wrote special material and did the choral work on Caesar's Hour with Sid Caesar, the successor to Your Show of Shows. In 1959, Charles produced the summer replacement for The Perry Como Show.[15] Allan Sherman ("Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh"), a friend of Charles', was the head writer. Also on the staff was Andy Rooney. The stars were Tony Bennett (his first series), Teresa Brewer and The Four Lads.

The Ray Charles Singers[edit]

In June 1959, The Ray Charles Singers, a name bestowed on them by Perry Como, began recording a series of albums. Due to advances in recording technology, they were able to create a softer sound than had been heard before and this was the birth of what has been called "easy listening". Record producer Jack Hansen used some of the singers to provide backing vocals for Buddy Holly's last songs, which Holly composed and recorded shortly before his death in February 1959. The singers' close harmonies behind Holly's lead vocals simulated the sound of Holly's hit records with The Crickets. Six songs resulted from the Hansen sessions, led by the 45-rpm single "Peggy Sue Got Married"/"Crying, Waiting, Hoping".[citation needed]

On a cruise in 1964, Charles heard a Mexican song called "Cuando Calienta el Sol." He liked it, recorded it, under the English title "Love Me with All Your Heart", and his recording became a hit, riding to #3 on Billboard, #2 on Cashbox. This was followed by "Al Di La", also a very popular recording. The Ray Charles Singers were not one group of vocalists. They were different combinations of singers on records, tours and TV shows. What made them the Ray Charles Singers was the conducting and arranging of Ray Charles. The Ray Charles Singers also were the voices behind many commercial jingles.[10]

Charles decided to produce a "live" performing group to send on the road with Perry Como. The group of 12 singers opened in Las Vegas at the International Hotel and also opened the show for Como at Harrah's in South Lake Tahoe.[12]

Charles wrote the music and lyrics for an album produced by the Continental Insurance Company for the New York World's Fair in 1964, titled Cinema '76. It was a companion piece to a 30-minute show about unsung heroes of the American Revolution.[citation needed]

Discography[edit]

Albums as the Ray Charles Singers[edit]

Singles[edit]

Memories of a Middle-Aged Movie Fan[edit]

While Charles has always sung, he has only recorded one solo album, Memories of a Middle-Aged Movie Fan on Atlantic Records. It comprises songs from movies released in 1936. He gathered a group of his musician friends together: Nick Perito on accordion, Tony Mottola on guitar, Bob Haggart on bass, Dick Hyman on keyboards, Toots Theilemans, Doc Severinsen, Phil Bodner and his brother-in-law Bobby Rosengarden on drums. A labor of love for all, Charles' tenor voice does justice to "You’d Be So Easy To Love", "Did I Remember", "Pennies From Heaven" and other classics from that year.[16]

Films[edit]

Charles has also worked on film projects: Funny Lady and Running With the Moon.[8]

West Coast television[edit]

After years of television, hundreds of jingles and countless record dates, Charles started going out to the West Coast for work. The television industry was changing, migrating to Los Angeles. After a couple of years commuting, in 1968, Charles and his family relocated to Los Angeles, where he produced a Bing Crosby Special and worked on The Hollywood Palace.[9] By 1968, The Perry Como Show was now doing specials, so Charles could continue with Como while residing in California.[12] Then Charles wrote and arranged for two seasons of the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.[3][9] When the other Ray Charles was a guest on the Campbell Show our Ray suggested the entertainer perform "America the Beautiful". This was in 1971 long before it was heard at the 1984 Republican Convention. Also that year Ray wrote special material for the first Julie Andrews TV special, with Andrews and Gene Kelly.[8]

Charles became the musical guru to Sha Na Na and guided that show through three seasons. His son, Jonathan, and daughter, Wendy, also worked on the show with their father.[4][8][17] Charles, duetting with Julia Rinker, sang the title theme song for the long-running comedy series Three's Company, starring Suzanne Somers, John Ritter, and Joyce DeWitt.

The Muppets and Kennedy Center[edit]

Charles eventually went to London to help on The Muppet Show.[4] Writing special material for Carol Burnett and Brooke Shields, among others and working with Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog, Charles shared an office with Jim Henson, who Charles considered ”a genius”.

In 1982, Charles became the musical consultant of the "Kennedy Center Honors"[12] and later for 14 years performed the same function for the "Fourth of July" and "Memorial Day" concerts on PBS for 14 years.[8]

Ray Charles has won two Emmy Awards for special musical material, music and lyrics for two comedy specials: The Funny Side of Marriage and The First Nine Months.[18] His choral anthem, "Fifty Nifty United States", in which he set the names of the states to music in alphabetical order, is now a staple of school choirs.[5]

He self-deprecatingly now bills himself as "the other Ray Charles" in a humorous tribute to the blues singer with whom he worked on several occasions.[5][9]

Some fans of Ray Charles the blues and R&B singer have described their Ray Charles as the blind one and this one as the deaf one.

For his 90th birthday Ray gave a concert at the L.A. Jazz Bakery. With the help of female singer Lynn Roberts and an instrumental combo Ray demonstrated his vocal longevity to a full house by singing his way through the songs of WWII.

Awards[edit]

Family[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ FMS: Feature ASMAC salutes Lalo Schifrin and "the other" Ray Charles
  2. ^ Grudens, Richard, ed. (1986), The Italian Crooners Bedside Companion, Celebrity Profiles Publishing, pp. 63–69, ISBN 0-9763877-0-0, retrieved 14 April 2010 
  3. ^ a b "Ray Charles Studies Up On Latest Country Music". The Modesto Bee. 4 October 1970. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c "The Como Team". The Perry Como Appreciation Society. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d Paprocki, Justin (9 May 2008). "Five Minutes With musician Ray Charles, singer of 'Three's Company' theme song". The Island Packet. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  6. ^ "Perry Como TV Lyrics". Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  7. ^ "Perry Como TV Lyrics". Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Ray Charles". American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d Scott, Vernon (5 December 1972). "Name Change Poses Problem For Ray Charles". The Dispatch. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d Lanza, Joseph, ed. (2004). Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong; Revised and Expanded Edition. University of Michigan Press. p. 344. ISBN 0-472-08942-0. Retrieved 22 September 2010. 
  11. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2000). "The Great American Broadcast". Penguin Group. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f Macfarlane, Malcolm, ed. (2009), Perry Como: A Biography and Complete Career Record, McFarland, p. 310, ISBN 0-7864-3701-4, retrieved 28 April 2010 
  13. ^ Dunning, John (1998). id=EwtRbXNca0oC&pg=PA75&dq=%22beat+the+band%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=0&cd=6#v=onepage&q=%22big%20show%22&f=false On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press USA. p. 840. ISBN 0-345-49773-2. Retrieved 26 June 2010. 
  14. ^ O'Brian, Jack (13 August 1954). "Fontane Sisters Being Removed From Perry Como Show". The News-Sentinel. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  15. ^ Eward, William (15 June 1959). "Como show is exchanged for summer TV 'sleeper'". The Bulletin. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  16. ^ "Memories of a Middle-Aged Movie Fan". MusicStack.com. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  17. ^ Birth of a Series. Billboard. 15 July 1978. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  18. ^ "Emmy Awards Database-Ray Charles". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 20 September 2013. 

External links[edit]