Ray Charles, was an Emmy-winning choral director, lyricist and composer who worked with Perry Como for three decades, sang the theme song for the television sitcom “Three’s Company” and didn’t mind being known as “the other Ray Charles.” A member of ASMAC’s Board of Directors for 20 years, and a longstanding member of the organization prior, this interview was conducted by Ray’s son, arranger/composer/orchestrator Jon Charles, a past president and current board member of ASMAC. Included are stories about what led him down his chosen career path, and interesting things that happened along the way.
During a career that spanned radio, television, films and records, Charles was known for his ability to create melodies and meld voices in an intimate, easy-listening style that was well-suited to TV musical revues of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. He arranged and composed music for such shows as “Your Hit Parade,” “Sha-Na-Na,” “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” and “The Muppet Show,” and worked with Sid Caesar, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Andrews, Tony Bennett and other stars. Known as an authority on American popular music, Charles also was a consultant for the annual “The Kennedy Center Honors” for 31 years.
He was best known for his long association with Perry Como, the smooth baritone who hosted a popular variety show on NBC in the 1950s and ’60s. Charles and his singers not only backed Como on the show and 31 albums but accompanied him on tour. It was Como who introduced the group on the program as the Ray Charles Singers, and the name stuck. The Ray Charles Singers recorded more than 30 of their own albums for the Essex, MGM, Decca and Command labels. It made the top 100 about a dozen times between 1955 and 1970 with such hits as “Love Me With All Your Heart” and “Al-Di-La.” He won Emmys for music and lyrics for two shows in 1971, “The First Nine Months Are the Hardest” and “The Funny Side.” Charles’ choral style raised hackles in the studio when he began recording in the 1950s. The sound engineer told him that the group’s soft, whispering tones would be obliterated by surface noise on the record. “I told them that was their problem,” Charles said in Joseph Lanza’s book “Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong” (2004).
Occasionally confused with the R&B Soul singer Ray Charles, in a 1986 Muppets special, which featured the black Charles in archival footage, the music credits make a teasing reference to the identity confusion, calling the choral director-composer “The Other Ray Charles.”… and it stuck.
He wound up singing the “Three’s Company” theme song (with Julia Rinker Miller) by accident. He was asked to teach the tune (“Come and knock on our door. We’ve been waiting for you …”) to the show’s stars — John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt — but their efforts after an hour’s practice were not promising. Asked by the producers how the trio was doing, Charles was tactful. “I said, ‘I’m not sure,'” he recalled in 2008. “They said, ‘Well, we are. We like the way you sing it.’ And that’s how I got it.”
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