Ray Charles is often credited with pioneering the soul music genre of the 1950s. His music was a hybrid of jazz, blues, and gospel, and he later went on to incorporate other styles such as country and pop music. Charles was blinded as a child because of glaucoma, but he was still highly adroit at playing the piano. This earned him the moniker, The Genius, and his peers viewed him as a deity. Charles has been extremely influential, and Billy Joel said that he was more important to the music business than Elvis Presley. Now 16 years on since his passing, how has Charles continued to have an impact on music?
16 Years Since His Passing
Charles was 73 years old when he passed away in 2004, and his death was marked with a tribute concert at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles which featured Stevie Wonder and B.B King among others. His final album, Genius Loves Company, was released soon after and won eight Grammy awards including Album of the Year. The record featured a number of collaborations with some of the world’s biggest artists including Elton John, Van Morrison, and Willie Nelson.
Perhaps because of the fact that Charles’s influence is evident in so much modern music, it doesn’t feel like such a long time has passed since his death. The anniversary of his demise in June brought about talk of Charles’s legacy, and what would happen to some of his back catalog of songs. One of the biggest pieces of news was that the acquisition rights to a large portion of his records were up for grabs in a multi-million dollar deal. It was recently announced that Primary Wave Music Publishing had swooped in first and finalized a deal to acquire a majority stake in the tracks and records released before 1964.
This deal is likely to help Charles’s iconic music reach younger generations, and will fuel nostalgia in older listeners. Primary Wave’s publishing infrastructure includes digital strategy, licensing and sync opportunities, and film & television production. This means that classic songs such as Hit The Road Jack and Ain’t That Love could be used for advertising, film, or in rebooted music videos that feature modern artists alongside the soul icon.
Significant Moments and How His Influence Is Still Around
With so many incredible songs, albums, and concerts, it’s hard to single out the most significant moments in Charles’s astounding career. There were a number of major milestones that led to Charles becoming one of the greatest musicians who ever lived and the second-best singer of all time according to Rolling Stone magazine.
The first huge signpost for future success was when Charles signed a deal with Atlantic Records in 1952. The company bought Charles’s signature for a mere $2500, which would equate to around $24,000 in today’s money. His first hit for the label was Mess Around in 1953, and this was followed up with It Should’ve Been Me and Don’t You Know. The release of What’d I Say is considered to be the pinnacle of Charles’s success with Atlantic, and this is where the singer began to combine a number of genres to create a new distinctive sound.
Charles was at the forefront of the music industry for some time, but his success went into decline throughout the 1970s. A significant point in his career, then, was his comeback in 1983 when he signed a deal with Columbia. He returned to the charts with I’ll Be Good To You, which was a collaboration with Chaka Khan and Quincey Jones. The song hit No.1 on the R&B chart and earned the musicians a Grammy.
Some of the greatest artists who have confessed admiration for and drawn inspiration from Charles include Aretha Franklin, Morrison, and Presley. Echoes of Charles’s influence can be heard in music from a number of modern singers as well, including the likes of Beyoncé, Sam Smith, and John Legend.
Classics Like Blackjack Give an Insight to How Charles Got His Ideas
Budding songwriters could learn a lot from examining some of Charles’s greatest achievements and looking into the ways he came up with his lyrics. Blackjack, from his 1958 record, Yes Indeed!!, is a good song to analyze in this regard as he managed to take a normal pastime and turn it into a beautiful song.
Ray Charles played a number of gigs in Las Vegas during his career, and he may have found inspiration for the song by playing one of the most famous casino table games while he was there. The slow, bluesy number is a great accompaniment to playing blackjack, which is one of the most popular card games ever created. Charles sings about having to make 21 in order to win and also mentions needing to have to excel at the game.
A modern songwriter could try to create a similar song about casino games for today’s audiences. They would aim to develop a song in a similar style, as the blackjack games of the 21st Century are still much the same as they were back in Charles’s card-playing days. The rules, certainly, are the same, although the abundance of choice – multi-hand or American, digital or live – might provide an exciting metaphor for love and dating which listeners could relate to. Lyrically, this would recapture the brilliance of Charles, taking an everyday pastime and finding in it an extraordinary relation to more the complex realm of feelings. Indeed, in his song Blackjack, it is almost as though Charles poured out his soul.
The loss of Charles was a significant blow to the music industry, but the fact that modern labels are trying to keep his music alive is excellent news. Charles’s influence can be heard in varied sections of the music industry, and aspiring artists could look to the singer as a muse when it comes to songwriting. There is no doubt that he had a knack for turning everyday things into incredible pieces of music.