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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Georgia on my stamp: Ray Charles 'Forever'

  • Courtesy of The Ray Charles Foundation
Legends live forever, and now we can all own a piece of one for .46¢! The United States Postal Service will begin sale of a "forever" stamp in honor of Georgia music legend Ray Charles as part of the ongoing "Music Icons" series on September 23, what would have been Charles' 83rd birthday.

The stamp honor has been bestowed upon other musical legends for many years, and the biggest seller of all time was the Elvis Presley stamp released in 1993 after a nationwide vote on which Elvis image should be used. While the initially impressive nature of the stamp honor may be a bit diluted by now, it is still nothing to take lightly, and Charles is a deserving honoree.

Born in Albany, Ga., Charles lost his sight around the age of seven and experienced multiple family tragedies in his early days. He learned to play piano at a school for the Blind in Florida, initially immersed in classical music, but his real love was jazz and blues. As his career developed, Charles dabbled in many different genres, and mastered them all. His soulful voice and precise yet emotional piano style became his trademark, and once he interpreted a song, it became his. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (Volumes 1 & 2) are considered to be two of the most important crossover albums of all time, wherein Charles transformed traditional country songs into rich and elaborate blues numbers that impressed both country and R&B fans.

On September 24, Concord Records releases Forever, a compilation CD/DVD featuring 12 tracks curated by Charles' long time employee Valerie Ervin. This will also be available at the USPS. While the material (except for the obligatory unreleased track) has all been released before, each song was selected to portray some unique aspect of Charles' incredible talent, sparkling personality, and social convictions. The opening cut is Charles' version of the Leon Russell penned "A Song For You," a powerful love song that takes on even deeper meaning in Charles' emotive interpretation. His love of country music is displayed in the stunning "Ring Of Fire," originally recorded by Charles' good friend Johnny Cash.

While Charles' recordings are all fine works, the 20-minute DVD includes live clips that showcase the incredible energy and power of his performances. Charles loved to play concerts, his band was always top-notch, his arrangements were near perfect, and his connection to the audience was sincere.

Even though his personal life was fairly chaotic, with a devastating bout of substance addiction and numerous failed marriages, his musical accomplishments were honored many times over. He was one of the first inductees into both the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, won numerous Grammys including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and has a statue in Ray Charles Plaza in Albany. He passed away from kidney problems in 2004, but his legacy has been perpetuated with numerous album releases and honors. The stamp is just another way to say "thank you, brother Ray."

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