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Soul Music? Let’s talk about Ray Charles!

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Summer and jazz seem to go hand-in-hand. I am noticing weekend jazz festivals and evenings of “jazz in the park” all over the D.C. area. I am sure some of you have enjoyed some of these events where you live. Now I am thinking about jazz! This thought lends itself to a discussion of related genres like rhythm & blues (R&B), and soul music.

The late Ray Charles, born in 1930, was a chart topping musician in multiple categories including R&B. He was blind from childhood, due to glaucoma at the age of 7. His music, song lyrics, voice, and engaging smile captured audiences world-wide. Ray is a music legend.

In April 2000, the Library of Congress recognized Ray with a Living Legends award. He is also featured on the Library of Congress’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month webpage. In 2005, rare recordings from Carnegie Hall in 1957 were discovered in the Library’s collections, which included performances by Ray.

The NLS Music Section owns talking books with discussions of Ray and his music. Available in the category of music appreciation, we have Rock and Roll and Radio, a radio series on the 1980s broadcast program Kaleidoscope, hosted by Mike Whorf. Our online catalog states, it “explores the connection between radio and the development of rock and roll. The roles of Alan Freed and Dick Clark are covered in addition to the music of many rock musicians.” Have you ever heard of the soulful singer “Big Maybelle” Smith? Have you ever heard her sing the lyrics to the influential song, “Mean to Me?” If not, you are in for a real treat with this book. Rock and Roll and Radio is available on digital cartridge and cassette tape. See book number DBM01126 in our online catalog.

In 1980, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a set of broadcasts titled From Jumpstreet: a Story of Black Music. The series is extensive, and covers numerous artists and styles of music. When largely talking about music of the 1950’s and 60’s, narrator Oscar Brown, Jr. asks, “What is soul anyway?” Brown discusses the influence of gospel singing on jazz, and the development of a genre we call soul music. Brown states, “[Ray Charles] set new standards for a generation of popular music.” Of noteworthy mention along with Ray are Stevie Wonder, who has also been blind since childhood, and Aretha Franklin. See book number DBM00715.

Ray passed away in 2004, leaving behind a legacy of great music to inspire generations to come.


  1. Good info. Thanks!

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