Ray did not always cater to everyone though. "I Got A Woman" was Ray's first major hit and controversy. Combining sexual lyrics with gospel apparently is sacrilegious but would you want to be right when it feels and sounds that good? (sorry that the dialogue is in Croatian)
After his mother dies, Charles makes a key decision for himself. He leaves school at sixteen to try playing with jazz musicians. He learns a new kind of freedom from the constrictions he knew at home by moving to bigger cities. First, he moves to Jacksonville, Florida and strives to learn different styles of music to entertain a variety of audiences. Charles may be blind to skin color but he learns a sense of segregation by admitting that “country folk” like him thought there were “two types of sounds” and those were “race records” and “radio music.” He explains how at this point in time he was often covering songs that white musicians had learned from black musicians. Charles explains that he played the songs in his own way to “reclaim” and “[bring] 'em back to where they started out.” He claims “It wasn't that I was angry at those white cats for taking from blacks. I've always said, just 'cause Bell invented the phone doesn't mean Ray Charles can't use it”(72). Charles recognized that he had learned his ability to play music from playing other musicians songs and “gave those ofay boys some credit for having good ears” admitting that he would be “playing with a white hillbilly band myself” in Tampa (73).
Upon returning to the South to tour, Charles says the experience “gave [him] eyes [he] hadn't had before.” He said in “coming back to my home turf, I was aware of the ugliness of prejudice for the first time.” He says he “suddenly saw the divisions: It was white toilets and black toilets; it was white restaurants and black restaurants; it was white hotels and black rooming houses.” He lost his innocence and realizes that his “little country town of Greensville was so quiet, so peaceful, so backwards that I grew up without any idea that there was actual hatred between the races”(126).
Charles considers self-dignity to be an obligation to the concepts of right and wrong he had learned from Mama and church. He knows to stand up for himself while maintaining a level of self-discipline. He explains that sometimes he let his anger get the best of him and describes an incident from his school days:
“At school, I remember a white kid once called me nigger and I knocked the shit out of him. But that wasn't because he was white. I would have done the same thing to a black kid if he had used the word. I had been raised to believe that nigger was obscene language, and that no one should use it—me included.”Charles demands others to give him the equal respect he gives them. He trusts most people but learns that often times things do not necessarily end fairly. He recounts an incident in Texas where he and David “Fathead” Newman get harassed by cops. Fathead gets arrested and Charles is left with his car. He does not protest their actions, explaining, “the worst thing you could do was talk back. Try to explain, try to defend yourself, try to reason—that's all the excuse the cops needed to bust you upside the head. If you didn't want to get fucked up, you just kept quiet and bit your tongue.” Charles pays the charges to bail out Fathead. Charles says, “we were a black band, and America wasn't exactly embracing us with love, affection, and equal opportunity” (164).
I wonder how Ray would feel about John Mayer covering "I Got A Woman" now that he said this...
Ray Charles success enabled him to expand his band to a much larger operation than most record companies would allow. Ray sometimes had up to thirty musicians touring with him, allowing him to arrange what he thought his music needed.
Charles is one of the first musicians to refuse to play a Jim Crow gig and the band successfully forces promoters into integrating events in places like Nashville and Baton Rouge. Charles says “I never blamed all the white people in America. I didn't fault all of any one group.” He understands that the laws and pressures of society had forced many whites to risk their lives and businesses in order to stand up for what was right. He notes that he was not bothered by the popularity of rhythm-and-blues and its adoption by white artists. He describes it as “just one of those American things. I've said before that I believe in mixed musical marriages, and there's no way to copyright a feeling or a rhythm or a style of singing. Besides it meant that White America was getting hipper” (176).
|Did you know Ray played clarinet and saxophone?|
While Charles admits knows how to get along well with others, he claims he was never trying to appease anyone. He remarks that he makes decisions according to what feels right to him, refusing to limit himself to any label given to him by radio and fans, recording albums of jazz, country, blues, and R&B. He retained control over his music while learning from the music of others to suit his feelings; Ray was just being Ray the way he knows best.
All citations come from Ray Charles' autobiography co-authored by David Ritz, Brother Ray.