Ray Charles

Jul 9 • In Memoriam

 

For 35 years Ray Charles was choral director, vocal arranger and “man-of-all music” to Perry Como in television, records and personal appearances. It was Perry Como who christened the choral group on his television program, “The Ray Charles Singers” and they went on to record 30 LPs, including 6 Grammy nominees and the single, “Love Me With All Your Heart” that went to #3 on the charts.

Mr. Charles was born in Chicago, was schooled there and began working as a singer while still in high school, first as a soloist and later as a member of various radio choirs. It was during this time that he gained the experience as a choral arranger that would help him rise to the top of his chosen music category. In Chicago he met his wife, Bernice, who was a pianist/secretary for a music publisher and it was there that they had their first child, Michael.

On moving to New York, he became very active in radio. After a stint in the Navy, television arrived and there was an urgent need for his services in the new medium. Besides his work with Perry Como, Ray was choral director/arranger for 7 years of “Your Hit Parade”, one of the most important pioneer television programs. During this time he began writing special material which would eventually garner him two Emmy awards from the television academy for outstanding achievement. In addition to his work on Perry Como’s highly acclaimed TV specials, he worked on specials for Julie Andrews, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Mac Davis, The Carpenters, among others. He was also musical consultant for the “The Muppet Show”. Other credits include the Academy Awards, The Grammy Show, The People’s Choice Awards, the AFI Salute to Billy Wilder, Frank Sinatra’s 75th birthday celebration, Bob Hope’s 90th, and for the past 17 years, the Kennedy Center Honors. Since 1991 he has been musical consultant and vocal arranger for PBS’s highest rated musical shows, “The Memorial Day Concert” and “A Capital Fourth’, both from Washington D.C. Ray and his son, Jon, were musical co-directors of the “Sha-Na-Na” series on which his daughter, Wendy, was assistant director.

On Broadway, Ray was musical director of the original production of “Finian’s Rainbow” whose original cast album he conducted. In movies he did the choral work for Barbra Streisand’s “Funny Lady” and “Racing With the Moon”. Most nights he can be heard singing the theme on TV’s “Three’s Company”.

 

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