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From the Stars and Stripes archives

Ray Charles wears his fame with humility

By DAN WARFIELD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 5, 1976

The two-hour concert in Stuttgart last week opened with about 20 minutes of jazz standards from the Ray Charles Orchestra before Charles himself came on. With a repertoire that ranged from "Georgia on My Mind" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" through "I Can See Clearly Now" and "Country Roads" to some electric-piano basic blues, Ray Charles proved again that he's still the king of rhythm and blues.

Charles, who performs with his whole body, from vocal chords and fingers to feet and facial muscles, could have dominated the Liederhalle alone with his piano; the orchestra and five honey-throated Raeletts were frosting.

In a demonstration of the excessive modesty which makes Charles so easy to talk to, he remarked in an after-show interview, "I don't play well by myself."

One of the biggest stars ever to come along, Charles wears his fame with humility.

"I must tell you," he said after the thunderous ovation had died away and the hall was empty, "that, when an entertainer has been in the world of music as long as I have and he's still able to generate that type of response from an audience, I think it is the most wonderful tribute that you can pay to any performer. I cannot express what I honestly feel in my heart — it really moved me very much to come to Stuttgart and have the people respond to me.

"This evening it rained. When people are willing to not only come in the rain to hear you, but spend their money as well, I think that's beautiful."

Charles, going grey these days, is dividing his time between touring and working with his Tangerine Records. He professed his honesty to a German TV interviewer who questioned it:

"September 23rd I had a birthday — I am 46 years old, and I feel at my age I don't have to say things that I don't really mean. And, besides being an old man, I am also in a position where I work now because I love working. I don't have to work if I don't want to. I'm honest enough to tell you I could live the rest of my life and never work again.

"I'm very honest; I'm not gonna tell you no lie."

He had a hard time making it in show business — not only did he have to deal with the normal rigors of that highly competitive world, he had the double handicap of being both black and blind.

"It was good training for me, but I don't like to say that the only way you can be good is to suffer. I am not going to say that, because I don't necessarily believe that.

"I think that, if you are really good, or if you really do have talent, it may not hurt you to suffer, but on the other hand I don't want to say that it's absolutely necessary to suffer.

"I would like to work more with young people, because, when I was young, I didn't have the amount of coaching or someone to steer me, to guide me, you know what I mean. So I missed a lot that way.

"I had to learn most of the things I learned by what they call the `hard way.' I like to work with young people, with young performers, to be able to polish what they do.

" I'm working with a couple of fellas now that I think are highly talented," he said of his Tangerine operation. "There is a fellow by the name of Joe Webster who is a singer and pianist, and he also writes very well ... also there is another gentleman by the name of Darryl Fletcher — he's a very young fellow, maybe 22, 23 years old, and, I feel, highly talented.

"They are excellent entertainers in their own right. All I do is I try to help them — sometimes, when you are young like that, you do run into problems that you don't understand how to solve. They will come to me and say, `What do I do about this?' or `How do I solve this?' I like to help them that way, the same as I used to help Billy Preston when he was in my organization." .

Charles has not forgotten the days when he played much smaller stages in Europe, often for GI audiences. "I tell you, man, I would like to say this — because I think the people who are over here are very much my fans, they listen to me and I get a lot of response from them, letters and cards and stuff, and! I hear from them all the time. I think it's a great thing what they are doing and I appreciate it."

He said the audiences today are as great a thrill as the first ones in the early days, when he got his start playing the Elks' Club in Seattle.

"When I was coming up, I had an awful lot of support, which I appreciated, so I cannot minimize that — it meant an awful lot to me when I was growing up, and, now that I am where I am today, I still appreciate — I still need, as a matter of fact — the same support that the people give me even today.

"You know music is the type of thing, that, when you've been out here 31 years, like I have, very few entertainers last that long. So I'm very grateful to the public for listening to me and allowing me the opportunity to be able to put some music in their hearts."

He said he spends his time with sports when he's not working: "When I'm in the States, I like football games and baseball games. And I love to play chess — as a matter of fact, you can even wake me up in the middle of the night to play a game of chess.

"I'm very tired," he said at last. "I'm gonna go home and watch the fight now."

He has one remaining German date on the tour, Frankfurt's Jahrhunderthalle Tuesday night.

 

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