The ‘genius’ could do it all

You don’t associate Ray Charles as a country singer. That’s because he wasn’t. Instead, the late musician was a pioneer of soul music. Known as “The Genius,” Charles combined blues, gospel, R&B, rock, and jazz to create groundbreaking singles.

But in 1962, Charles released Modern Sounds in Country and Western MusicThe album is still regarded as his most exciting and brash work. So, what songs were on the album? Was the album a success?

But first, who was Ray Charles?

Ray Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. One of the most traumatic events from his childhood was when he witnessed the drowning of his younger brother. Shortly after his death, Charles began losing his eyesight. He went completely blind when he was seven years old.

While studying at the Florida School for the Blind and Deaf, Charles learned how to play the piano, organ, saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet. He started performing professionally as a teenager with his early work resembling two of his influences: Charles Brown and Nat King Cole.

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In 1949, Charles released his first single, “Confession Blues.” The song didn’t perform well with critics, but he returned with more singles: “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” and “Kiss Me Baby.” In 1953, he finalized a deal with Atlantic Records, which would help launch his music career.

Becoming a ‘genius’

In 1954, Charles impressed audiences with an R&B classic, “I Got a Woman.” The song was unlike any others—a combination of gospel and R&B rhythms. It was with this song that created the new genre of music now known as soul music.

Fellow musicians began calling Charles “The Genius” because he expertly blended many genres of music into one song. He could cross over into pop music whenever it was necessary.

Other popular songs include “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Mess Around,” and many others. Charles knew every style of music possible, and by the early 1960s, he was ready to expand his skills once more. Fans probably didn’t expect him to release a country music album, but no one should have underestimated the musical genius.

His country album

Growing up in the South, Charles knew country music. He listened to the music of Hank Williams, so he wanted to take a chance with a country music album. His 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, was a risk. Initially, the album was rejected by his new record label, ABC. They were sure Charles would lose fans.

But Charles was confident he wouldn’t lose fans; he would gain many more.

He was right. The album sold 700,000 copies within its first four weeks of release. Atlanta distributor Gwen Kestler said the album was “so hot in her district that people who don’t even own record players are buying it.”

About the songs

Charles’ country album featured several successful songs, and they were all covers of songs that had experienced pop exposure with audiences during the previous 20 years. This includes “You Don’t Know Me,” “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” “Just a Little Lovin’ (Will Go a Long Way),” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and “Hey, Good Lookin.’”

Charles selected songs he knew he could adapt with big, bold arrangements. He somehow found the spot where R&B and country met.

He crossed the line between the genres. His country album highlighted the modern sounds we could discover in country music. According to country music legend Willie Nelson, the album “did more for country music than any one artist has ever done.”

The album impacted society—both white and African-American listeners. Writer Daniel Cooper said Charles proved that “music unites people. It just really does.” Charles left an important mark in music across all genres. He certainly was a genius, and even country music can thank him for influencing generations of listeners.

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