About that Show Business article that mentions Ray Charles' involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
I want to hazard a guess that Ray Charles' role in funding and, possibly, collecting the talent for the Salute to Freedom '63 may be underplayed by Leo Shull in the article I included in my last post. The parallel images of a white man and a Black man, each powerful in the entertainment industry, flying into Birmingham in his own jet plane, is suggestive of parallel roles. I have no doubt that Joey Adams played the significant role described in the article. But it's also the case that Show Business was a paper that tracked entertainment events and gossip in New York City. Charles' music career began in Seattle and moved to LA. Joey Adams would be the man whose power in the entertainment industry would be of principle interest to Shull, and Shull probably would not have had as much access to Charles as he did to Adams.
I can't get beyond speculation here without doing research outside of the internet, probably primary source research. However, as I said in my previous post, the music is the main thing. I got an email from Lee Ballinger of Rock and Rap Confidential, who wanted me to read this fine piece by Mat Callahan:
Brother RayIn Callahan's idea of popular art that "embraces every concern of common life," there is a bit of the idealism about popular music that I associate with old left writings about Jazz and Blues from the 1930s and 1940s. In Callahan we lose a little bit of the forceful individual vision that brought together diverse, seemingly incompatible elements of popular music, sacred and secular, Black and white. Callahan's demotic reading of Charles' music is not, however, some kind of vulgar Marxism.
Ray Charles was among the greatest musicians of all time. He was a master. His work established standards of excellence in method and result that can guide the efforts of all who aspire to making great art. This quest for quality operates within a broader field of social interaction of which Brother Ray was a vital, conscious participant. From songs such as ''Them That Got" to "Busted" to "Hey Mister," Charles chose to voice the suffering and struggle of the common people. While he was never specifically identified as a 'political' artist, his work demonstrates that all authentic popular art embraces every concern of common life, excluding none. Thus, philosophy, politics, spirituality, love and lust boil and bubble in a funky stew; often clashing and contradicting just as they do in lived life. In his album 'Message From The People', Charles sought to express, explicitly, the anguish and the aspirations bursting forth in the tumultuous Sixties. By opening the album with "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the Negro National Anthem, Charles made the connection between a previous generation of African Americans struggling for freedom and the Black Liberation Struggle which, in 1967, had ghettoes throughout the US in flames. When he joined Aretha Franklin at the Fillmore auditorium to sing Aretha's "Spirit in the Dark," all our dreams of unity and an end to injustice were expressed in glorious, thunderous song.
For musicians, in particular, his influence is too great to be measured. His marriage of blues, jazz and gospel forms gave birth to Soul—both a musical genre and a philosophical perspective. This continues to be a cornerstone of all serious music making, regardless of genre, since, to be truly great, music must have Soul.
While we will miss him we will never lose him as long as we maintain our fidelity to this guiding principle. Ray Charles made timeless music.
Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Jeanne D'Arc has another post on Ray Charles, this time criticizing how Stanley Crouch mythologizes Ray Charles as "above politics, above race, and above — as Stanley Crouch phrased it — 'whining and crying about how hard it was.'" I'm glad Jeanne found my first post on Charles, with its evidence of his political commitment to the Civil Rights Movement, a useful counter to Crouch.
Crouch idealizes the music as well as the man. Crouch writes, "We don't even need to talk about rhythm and blues or the blues or his love of jazz. He had a full house of talent." Crouch concludes, saying, "Charles was one of those special few who expands the democratic experience by proving that neither color nor a handicap mean that one is less a man or less a woman." But Crouch's American democracy is an elitist one.
Charles may have had the strength of character not to complain, yet his strength as a musician came from his mastery of European ("Classical") traditions and diverse American vernacular traditions. Too much emphasis on the individual talent encourages gross detachment of individuals from their communities. Vernacular musical forms—blues, jazz, gospel and, yes, country—originate in specific communities. If Ray Charles had forgotten where his music came from, we would not still be marveling at the authority with which he wrote and performed it.