The Legacy of Ray Charles 'Got Over'

African American blues great has 'Hit the road, Jack'

| June 17, 2004

Two important Americans died last week; one was a divider whose legacy resembles an ugly stain on history, while the other played a key role in the country's second great revolution and whose lyrics speak volumes about Black America during and after the Civil Rights movement. Ray Charles had 'crossover appeal,' Seth Sandronsky remembers, because his music 'got over' to people of all ages and backgrounds. Charles helped build a cultural bridge for African Americans between the awful past and the challenging present. Sandronsky continues: 'Charles was a distinctive voice in a nation with African roots from colonial days. For the past 50 years, he helped to define the cultural fabric of America.'

His music also had the power to make your own problems melt away. Ron Jacobs remembers heeding Charles' advice after a long, hard day at the army base: 'When you work so hard all the day long / And everything you do seems to go wrong / Just drop by my place on your way home / Let's go get stoned.' Later on, reality never spoke so clearly as when the bills came due every month. The following lyrics succinctly describe the plight of the post-slavery black man trying to make it in America: 'My bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I'm busted / Cotton is down to a quarter a pound, but I'm busted / A big stack of bills that gets bigger each day / The county's gonna haul my belongings away cause I'm busted.'

In fact, Sandronsky almost likens Ray Charles to a sort of cultural Moses because his lyrics seek to bring Black Americans out of the fray. 'Charles' getting over was about more than boosting the bottom line for this or that record company or film studio. His originality and vitality flowed from the legacy of crossing over when slavery was the rule in the South. When enslaved African Americans crossed over the Ohio River, they found freedom on the other side. Their descendants in those riverbank towns endured the pains of that unfinished U.S. revolution.'
-- Jacob Wheeler

Go there>>How Ray Charles Got Over

Go there too>>Well, I Guess If You Say So, I Have to Pack My Things and Go

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