African-American History Month - "Tell your Mama"


So you say you have one of those jobs where the boss watches the clock? You’ve done everything that needed doing and you still have a few minutes left, what do you do? I’m going to check email and straighten my desk. Ray Charles created a chart topper! It’s 1958 and the African-American musician, songwriter, and singer (OK, now we call him a legend!) had a contract to fulfill. He, his band, and backup singers were in a club in Brownsville Pennsylvania and the club wanted a time slot filled. Period. After giving the crowd everything he had, there were about 12 minutes left on the contract. So Charles told the band to follow his piano and the Raelettes to answer his lyrics. “The Genius” went to work for those last few minutes of his “shift” feeling his way through a new song. Everyone wanted to know what it was called so they could buy it.

But Ray Charles, who had learned classical music as a child in Georgia, heard country and blues and everything else in a time when powerful radio stations did not limit and program their playlists, had a multi-genre song that was too long for the accepted sub-three minute radio format. Oh, and it was sex on display. But Atlantic stood behind Charles, cutting the song into two sides, editing just a bit, with the most modern equipment of the time, and a wizard engineer making the sexually-charged sound loud and clear. When some stations refused to play the song, Atlantic refused to take the records back. The following year, “Brother Ray” closed his set at the Newport Jazz Festival with it and kicked off a tradition that followed for the rest of his gigs. He had helped pioneer a new sound, bringing all that music exposure together with his rhythm and blues and gospel call and response. The song had universal appeal, outside “race” records and climbed both pop and R&B charts - it presented soul music as a new baby wrapped in tradition. Despite protests, those spare moments produced a crossover which topped Cashbox’s R&B sales charts and hit Billboard’s top ten. That baby was dressed up for the world - recorded in Atlantic’s New York studio - on this day in 1959.

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In my journeys over the last three years, both physical and personal/internal, I have discovered Memphis and a drive to create. This site will display my goals to informally promote and tell stories about Memphis and the surrounding areas - music, culture, history - through my observations, photography, and telling the stories of people I meet along the way.

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