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Ray Charles embodied Afro-American music in all its diversity, then went beyond it to become an internationally renowned star whose work left its mark on the 20th century. 

Joël Dufour reveals the genesis of the art of an exceptional artist in the first part of this compilation, entitled “His Inspiration“.

We see the Genius, still in the early stages of his career, building his repertoire by borrowing extensively from his contemporaries, an approach revealed by comparing the covers with the original versions that inspired him. His first Swing Time sides in 1949, for example, were marked by the production of Nat King Cole’s trio and borrowings from the blues (Leroy Carr, St Louis Jimmy).

Signing with Atlantic in 1952, Ray Charles then embarked on a more original path, recording Sinner’s Prayer by Lowell Fulson and Feelin’ Sad by Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones), his two former employers.

Two years later, he had the idea of mixing blues and gospel with I’ve Got A Woman, inspired by It Must Be Jesus (Southern Tones) and Lord If I Go (The Dixie Hummingbirds). Driven by “the passion of a Pentecostal church service”, the song shot to the top of the R&B Charts. It was a revolution. With his path now mapped out, Ray perfected the formula with his vocal group Les Raelets. This success did not prevent him from recording a number of high quality jazz albums on the alto, inspired by Charlie Parker.

During this period, the Genius covered songs by Louis Jordan, Percy Mayfield, Dinah Shore, Louis Armstrong… and opened up his repertoire to pop. This trend became even more pronounced with the album “Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music” (1962), where country music meets R&B and gospel (see Ray Charles “The ABC Paramount Years 1959-1962”, Frémeaux & Associés FA5829). Aside from the controversy, he gained popularity with white audiences.

By then, all the building blocks of his style were in place. Ray Charles was now a key figure in the musical world of the 20th century and beyond. This is what the author shows in the second part, entitled “His Influence”, which contains a selective list of Ray’s compositions and covers by artists of all stripes (Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Allen Toussaint, Booker T., Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams with Count Basie, Elvis Presley, Timi Yuro, Brenda Lee, Peggy Lee, etc.).

This boxed set offers a remarkable overview of Ray Charles‘s musical career, presented by Joël Dufour in a highly erudite text. A detailed discography, invaluable bibliographical references, photos, period illustrations and fifteen previously unreleased live recordings add to the quality of this production, which ranks among the models of its kind.

This 7 CDs Boxed set  “Ray Charles The Grand Master – His Inspiration – His influence 1944-1962 est sorti sous le was released by the label Frémeaux & Associés FA5873 (Coffret 7 CDs) in May 2024.

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