Ray Charles shook up the nation when he took sacred music and made it sexy. There’s one track he wrote that’s the real kicker. Changed everything. See, it’s a little bit of gospel, a little bit of rhumba, a little bit of R&B. It’s also a whole lotta sexy. And that combination of carnal love and gospel song sparked a whole new genre—somethin’ called Soul. So how’d Brother Ray come up with one of the most important songs in the history of modern music?
Oh, it’s kind of a simple story, we were playing dances in those days, you know, we didn’t play too many concerts like you do now. So anyway make a long story short, usually we play the first two and a half hours then you have a half hour intermission, then you come back and you play that last hour. So, one night we had, we got back and after intermission I went on the stage and I sang and sang and I, when I’d sung everything I thought I could think of and we still had fifteen minutes to go so I said, well, tell you what guys, whatever I play y’all just follow me, girls whatever I say you just say it; and we just started doing….Do papa do, dodoom do wah do, Do papa do, dodoom do wah do. And the people started dancing and going crazy and stuff, and so I say wow, how exciting this is, you know, and we did this a couple of nights, you know, and somebody said to me… ‘hey man, you guys have a record on that, cause that’s great, man, people love to dance…’ I said, no it ain’t there’s no record, it’s just something we do on the stage so I call Ahmet the next day and said man I’d like to come in and record a song because we’re playing this thing out here on the road and the people love it, and he said, well hey, come on in and do, you know. But that song it was an accident, truly an accident; because I was just trying to kill time and I got to the ‘Oohh’ and the girls when ‘Oohh’ and then we just followed each other, and if you listen to the lyrics of “What’d I Say,” I’m sure you know, that the lyrics make… that there is no continuity at all, they’re just lines thrown together, just verses, I mean there is no story line, I mean there’s nothing makes sense, you know, I’m just saying lines, just rhyming lines, you know; but it worked and the reason that it worked is not because it’s a great song, but I think because it had such a great beat. - Ray Charles
Ray Charles Robinson was born September 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia. Ray began to lose his sight at age five, and was completely blind by seven years old. Around this time, he began to attend the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, where he was trained in classical music. It was what he heard on his family’s radio, though, that he wanted to play: jazz and blues. Ray left school at age 15, dropped his last name to avoid confusion with the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, and began wearing his signature sunglasses. At 17, he made his first recordings. At 19, he made his first his record, “Confusion Blues,” as the Maxin Trio. At 22 he was signed to Atlantic Records. Once at Atlantic, he skyrocketed to the top of the charts, and became the first African-American R&B artist to truly achieve crossover status.
The pinnacle of this success came in 1955 with “What’d I Say,” a song composed on the fly that shattered boundaries of genre. Taking the traditional call and response form out of the church, Ray stirred up great controversy. The sexed up sounds made by backup singers worried producers, and eventually even got the song banned on radio stations around the nation. But the song was a hit, and Ray was firmly established as a household name.
Following “What’d I Say,” Ray Charles would go on to sign a lucrative recording contract with ABC-Paramount Records, and would win a Grammy with his first single for ABC, “Georgia On My Mind.” Over the following years, he continued to develop his style with brilliant original compositions, as well as numerous acclaimed cross-genre cover albums, including a number of seminal Country and Western records.
Ray Charles passed away on June 10, 2004.