Ray Charles And Country Music

Fifty years ago, Ray Charles blended R&B, jazz, and country to make a new American sound.  We listen back.

Country Music Hall of Fame curator Mick Buck, left, works on Ray Charles exhibit items on Monday, Feb. 20, 2006 in Nashville, Tenn. (AP)

Country Music Hall of Fame curator Mick Buck, left, works
on Ray Charles exhibit items on Monday, Feb. 20, 2006 in Nashville, Tenn. (AP)

When Ray Charles was a boy, country music could be a rifle shot warning to a black man. No matter how sweet the lyrics, it could say “Race line here. Step Back.” But he didn’t . Ray Charles was the great blender of American music.

Gospel, jazz, R&B, soul – and country. In 1962, before civil rights and “I have dream,” he put out an album that crossed all kinds of lines. And set American music free.

This hour, On Point: Ray Charles and the blending of American music.

-Tom Ashbrook


Matt Glaser, jazz and bluegrass violinist and artistic director of the American Roots Music Program at Berklee College of Music.  He, with the Ray Charles Foundation, directed and curated Berklee’s Ray Charles symposium: “Inspired by Ray.”

Alonzo Harris, assistant professor at the Berklee College of Music

Ricky Skaggs, 14-time Grammy-winning country and bluegrass singer-songwriter

From Tom’s Reading List

The Boston Herald “This weekend Berklee College of Music celebrates one of pop music’s greatest trailblazers. Put together by Matt Glaser, director of Berklee’s American Roots Music Program, “Inspired by Ray” is a celebration of a man who made the sacred profane, helped invent both rock ’n’ roll and soul, and topped the charts with a blend of white country and black r&b.”

Rolling Stone “Charles’ biggest-selling record was the audacious racial-boundary-smasher its title promised, applying gospel grit and luscious soul-pop strings to standards by Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold.”

AllMusic “Covering a period from 1939 to the early ’60s, the 12 tracks here touch on old-timey fare (Floyd Tillman’s “It Makes No Difference to Me Now”), honky tonk (three Hank Williams songs), and early countrypolitan (Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You”). Along with a Top Ten go at Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me,” the Gibson cover helped the album remain at the top of the pop charts for nearly three months and brought Charles international fame.”


“Hey Good Lookin’ ” by Ray Charles  (1962, Modern Sounds)

“Kentucky Waltz” (OUTTAKE) by Ray Charles  (1953)

“It Must Be Jesus” by The Southern Tones (1954)

“I’ve  Got A Woman” by Ray Charles (1954, I’ve Got A Woman)

“I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles (1962, Modern Sounds)

“Just A Little Lovin’” by Ray Charles (1962, Modern Sounds)

“Half As Much” by Hank Williams (1952, Half As Much (SINGLE))

“Half As Much” by Ray Charles (1962, Modern Sounds)

“You Are My Sunshine” by Jimmie Davis (1939)

“You Are My Sunshine” by Ray Charles (1962, Modern Sounds)

“Friendship” by Ray Charles and Ricky Skaggs (1984, Friendship)

“I’ll Never Stand In Your Way” by Ray Charles (1962, Modern Sounds)

“Your Cheating Heart” by Ray Charles (1962, Modern Sounds)

“Careless Love” by Lead Belly (1940s, Recorded by MOSES ASCH)

“Careless Love” by Ray Charles (1962, Modern Sounds)

“America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles (1972, Live on The Dick Cavett Show)

“Bye Bye Love” by Ray Charles (1962, Modern Sounds)

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