The undisputed 'genius of soul', Ray Charles' golden period is presented here with a handpicked selection of tracks from his 1950s heyday. A true innovator and inspiration to soul singers and rock vocalists alike, Ray Charles transcended racial boundaries and changed the shape of popular music.
'I was the first one who started soul,' Ray Charles said when the compiler of this collection interviewed him shortly before his death in 2004. 'I was raised in the church and I knew gospel music. But I knew rhythm and blues too, because that was the music you heard in the neighbourhood. And I thought, 'that's my sound.' I put those two things together and they called it soul music.'
To interview Ray Charles was a privilege. But to hear him sing was heaven and the tracks included here, recorded between 1953 and 1960, constitute not only the peak of his genius but were a fountain of inspiration that changed the shape of popular music across racial boundaries, influencing black soul singers such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding and white rock vocalists like Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood and Van Morrison.
Ray Charles Robinson was born into acute poverty in rural Georgia in 1930 and had a tragic upbringing. He witnessed his brother drown as a young child, was blind from the age of seven and lost his mother when he was 15. 'Music was the only thing that kept me breathing and gave me a way to pick myself up,' he told this writer.
At blind school he learnt to read and write music in braille and began his recording career for the Downbeat label in 1949, singing in a smooth, crooning style modelled on Nat 'King' Cole and Charles Brown.
He enjoyed some early success but it was not until he signed to Atlantic Records in 1952 that he began to develop his own style and, with the encouragement of label owner Ahmet Ertegun, moved away from his 'cool' sound towards a more urgent and emotional approach with its roots in blues and gospel.
The turning point came on 1954's 'I Got A Woman'. A huge hit, the song was also highly controversial for its fusion of gospel fervour and carnal lyrics which even Charles' religious wife admitted shocked her when she first heard it.
The controversy soon subsided and a string of unforgettable hits followed, including 'This Little Girl Of Mine, Drown In My Own Tears', 'Hallelujah I Love Her So', 'Lonely Avenue', 'Talking 'Bout You', 'I Believe To My Soul' and 'The Night Time Is The Right Time', all of which are included here. On these recordings, Charles fused jazz, gospel, swing, blues, r&;ampb and balladry, which, as Van Morrison put it, were 'rolled together into one amazing, soulful thing.'
He left Atlantic at the end of the 1950s and although there were still some great records to come, few would argue that the tracks included here represent his golden period when he was the undisputed 'genius of soul'.