Ray Charles Sings' America, The Beautiful' And Nobody Has Done It Better
Ray Charles, a pioneer of soul music and legendary pianist, songwriter, singer, and composer, has earned a permanent spot in the pantheon of great American musicians.
In this riveting clip from a 1972 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, in which he plays and sings the classic tune America the Beautiful as you’ve never heard it before, Charles demonstrates the special talent that launched him to the top of his game.
According to his official website, Charles started losing his sight at the age of six as a result of glaucoma. Despite the adversity, however, he went after his dreams of making music by mastering the piano.
The prodigy was even taught how to play the instrument by another legend: Wylie Pittman.
Over the course of his musical career, Ray drew upon diverse musical styles including R&B, rock and roll, blues, gospel, jazz, and even country. His first major hit came in 1954, when his song “I’ve Got a Woman” reached the second position on the Billboard R&B chart. In 1959, “What’d I Say,” which blended jazz, blues, and gospel styles, topped the R&B chart and reached Number 6 on the Billboard Pop chart. Among other achievements, Charles received four Grammys for “Georgia on My Mind” and another for “Hit the Road Jack.”
Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful” first appeared on his 1972 album A Message from the People. By this time, his music was not played on the radio as much as it had been in its heyday, but Charles was still a deeply respected and influential musician. Thus, the release of his new album naturally made a splash, but his gospel-influenced rendition of “America the Beautiful” was controversial because not everyone was pleased with the way he had altered the patriotic anthem.
In the footage you’re about to see, Ray Charles sits at a piano against a deep purple background, wearing a distinctive double-breasted suit. He is joined on stage by several beautiful backup dancers, but the camera focuses on the main performer as he rocks back and forth, belting out his lyrics to America the Beautiful.
Partway through, he uses a speaking voice to tell the audience:
“When I was in school, you know, we used to sing it something like this.”
He then alters his tone to something that more closely resembles the familiar version of the song, before switching back to his unique style.
What did you think of this heartfelt rendition of one of the country’s most patriotic songs by one of its top performers of all time? Let us know in the comments and make sure you pass this along to your friends and family.