Charles is a musical icon, but at this point most people don't really know
much about his background. Too many younger people they just see the
later sell-outs; the Pepsi and lottery commercials, the songs with Billy
Joel, Norah Jones and InXS. Those were all fine, funky and well-done
for what they were, but still it was a legend coasting on his reputation.
That wasn't the real Brother Ray.
movie of his life should change all that. In a year where celebrity
biography movies were all the rage (Beyond the Sea, Kinsey, De-Lovely,
Finding Neverland, The Aviator
and more) this is arguably the best of them all.
helps that Ray Charles Robinson lived such a dramatic life. It was a
life as full of heartbreak as it was of success, as full of demons as it was
of brilliance. Born to a poor single washwoman in the deep south, Ray
witnessed his brother's accidental drowning at seven and never forgave
himself for not saving the boy. Ray lost his sight less than a year
later. His mother Aretha (Sharon Warren) was a proud, strong woman who
took a tough-love tact when teaching her son to deal with his blindness.
She was determined that he never allow himself to be a cripple.
after his mother's death, when Ray was in his twenties, he left his home to
go to Seattle to find a career in music. He took any gig he could get,
as the only black player for a country band (Charles was famously a fan of
country music, a fact that he would celebrate in his classic 1962 album
Modern Sounds In Country and Western) or as the underpaid leader of a
Seattle bar band (it turned out his job description included sleeping with
the woman who owned the club.) He was an astounding singer and
songwriter, but in these early years he was mostly a mimic. He sounded
eerily like Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown, but he had not yet found his
Still, his raw talent shone through and he was signed to a tiny label called
Swing Time signed him up as a recording act. This caught the ears of
Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, the heads of Atlantic Records. With
the strength that he learned from his mother, Charles is able to sign a
historic contract in terms of money and artists' rights.
Together with his band and the producers, Charles helped to create a new
form of soul music, a meld of his Gospel roots and his more earthly desires.
The music catches on and Charles keeps working on his craft to make it more
and more personal (the soundtrack alone makes this movie worth watching).
Charles toured the Chitlin' Circuit tirelessly, becoming one of the first
soul artists to run his own record company. He also becomes a civil
rights icon when he refused to play a segregated show in Georgia.
all fairness, Sam Cooke broke down many of those same doors at the same
time. Charles wasn't the only artist who merged gospel with popular
music. He wasn't the only African-American artist running his own
business and refusing to perform segregated shows down South, as the film
intimates. But, the fact that there were others like Cooke treading
the same road does not diminish Charles' accomplishments and bravery.
Ray is also impressive in the fact that it recognizes and explores Ray's
imperfections, his womanizing, his occasional callousness, his mistrust of
others and the drug addictions that dogged him through many of his glory
Charles was a complicated person, and his innate contradictions are captured
in a spectacular performance by Jamie Foxx. Foxx captures the physical
movements and voice of the man, but the performance is not a mere
impersonation, it is also an acting job of the highest caliber.
Watching Ray you forget that you are that this is a dramatization, it
seems almost more like a documentary.
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: October 28, 2004.