Genius + Soul = Ray

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By Delores McCain

The recently released movie Ray is a must-see. Actor Jamie Foxx has captured the soul of singer Ray Charles, and the Oscar buzz about Foxx's performance is justifiable.

The film begins with Charles' difficult childhood in the segregated South, watching the death of his brother and on through his successful years as one of America's most gifted artists. One of the nicknames he would eventually pick up would be "The Genius."

Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Ga. on Sept. 23, 1930. He continued performing until he was forced for health reasons to cancel his remaining 2003 tour after performing for 53 consecutive years. Although he stopped touring, he did continue working on what would be his last CD, Genius Loves Company, which was released in August and features such artists as B.B. King, Johnny Mathis and Willie Nelson.

Charles passed away June 10. He was the father of 12 children and few people knew that in 2002, Charles called all of his children together during the Christmas holidays and presented each one a check for $1 million (tax free). Although two of his children could not attend, they all came forward earlier this year to clear the record and dispel the rumors that Charles was broke and a negligent father.

Foxx, whose real name is Eric Bishop, became known to many of us as Wanda on the popular TV program In Living Color. In the movie, Foxx does his own piano playing. He studied music in college, released an album in 1994, and sang the theme song for the 1999 Oliver Stone movie, Any Given Sunday.

As the film shows, Charles was able to negotiate with Atlantic Records to own his master tapes, something unheard of during the early years for most performers, particularly African Americans. Black audiences may feel like cheering during this scene because there have been so many horror stories about black actors and musicians who died broke because of unscrupulous agents, mismanagement of funds and not being educated in the business of entertainment. Charles, however, owned all of his music. He owned Charles Charles.

The film does not avoid Charles's bout with drugs, and Foxx does an outstanding job showing the demons of withdrawal. His legendary womanizing is also included, but the devotion to his first wife, Della Robinson, remained. Kerry Washington turns in a fine performance playing Della.

The film shows how Charles squeezed out his longtime road manger Jeff Brown (Clifton Powell) and brought in Joe Adams (Harry Lennix) who remained in that role until Charles's death. Today, he is CEO of Ray Charles Enterprises.

It has been reported that Charles was quite involved in the making of the movie and that he was impressed by Foxx's piano playing. He was also impressed with director Taylor Hackford and stated in an interview last summer, "I can see Taylor's done his homework."

In an interview with Tavis Smiley in September of 2002 on NPR, Charles talked about his memories of early sight. "There are two major things I can recall. I can remember colors. I don't know a lot of these new colors like chartreuse, but if you say to me blue, green, red, black, white, purple, I can visualize exactly what you're talking about in the mind's eye. And I always remember my mom; that's embedded in my mind."

Ray will be embedded in your mind.

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