The Legacy of Ray Charles ‘Got Over’

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

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Ray Charles Got Over

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