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03 April 2010

Ray Charles: 50 Years In Music, Uh-Huh! (1991)

Clipping from Jet Magazine.

Ray Charles: 50 Years In Music, Uh-Huh! was a special TV show, commemorating Ray Charles's 50th year in the music industry (timing his debut at the Saintt Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind in 1942, when he started platying piano for afternoon tea parties and ladies' club socials!). The program was presented as a benefit event for the Starlight and Starbright Pavilion Foundations on 19 September 1991, in Pasadena, and was directed by Jim Yukich. With The Ray Charles Band, and a record breaking line-up of seven (7!) Raelettes. A 60-minute cut was aired by Fox on October 6. The DVD (embedded below) had 90 minutes.

DVD: Image Entertainment, November 2005, ISAN B000BD1LI6.

Fox/WUPW ad for
broadcast on Oct. 6.
There were plenty of stars, with Whoopi Goldberg, M.C. Hammer, Quincy Jones and Robert Townsend hosting segments; Paul McCartney and Gloria Estefan delivering taped tributes, and Michael McDonald, Randy Travis and James Ingram singing Charles hits. There's also a tape of John Belushi's hilarious Beethoven/Charles' imitation. Footage from rehearsals is included, just as a variety of interviews, and several (totally irrelevant) bonus acts.
When Ray Charles: 50 Years In Music originally aired, it was the highest rated musical variety special in the history of Fox Network Television. It has had subsequent airings on The Family Channel, BET, Disney Channel, and Bravo TV.
Highlights abound in the show. It's hard to say which is better, Charles' duet with Stevie Wonder - Livin' For The City* - or his performing Busted with Willie Nelson. The finale is for America the Beautiful. Bolton's contribution to Georgia, on the other hand, should be erased from history.

There's a story behind the line-up of seven Raelettes in Livin' For The City. When they planned the show, the producers did not schedule The Ray Charles Orchestra or The Raelettes to be on it. In stead, they planned everything with studio musicians, and fake Raelettes (possibly the girls that also acted that role in the Pepsi commercials).
David Hoffman remembers: "When Ray heard this he nixed that idea, saying he wanted his band behind him. [...] So we had "all 5", plus 3 that were part of the first booking. The original plan was to put the fake-ettes in front, dancing around like the Pepsi girls [...], and the real Raelettes on the side [...]. Ray nixed this idea as well, saying the Raelettes would be in front, and the fake-ettes on the side or in the back. I'm not sure how 8 became 7 [...]. I seem to recall that one of them walked because she wasn't going to be front and center."
Nils Johnson has similar reminiscences about the role of the band's rhythm section: "Peter Turre and I were out in the audience seats listening to Ray and the band rehearse the first tune with whoever it was he was singing a duet with. Neil Stubenhaus and Harvey Mason were playing bass and drums. The plan was for those 2 to play everything except Ray's solo band numbers, which is the only thing Peter and I were supposed to play. The next thing we knew, Ray stopped everything, called Joe Hunter over and said something to him. Joe comes down to us lounging in our seats and says, "Ray says whenever he's on stage playing you two are on stage playing!" So Pete and I ended up playing most of the show except the commercial bumpers and 4 solo numbers that other people were singing. We went from the rhythm section guys who were supposed to play the least to the guys who played the most! [...]".

Cast members: Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones, Robert Townsend, MC Hammer, Stevie Wonder, Michael Bolton, Randy Travis, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, James Ingram, Tevin Campbell, Paul McCartney, Bill Cosby, Gloria Estefan, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Tony Toni Tone.

* Though they had been longtime friends, Living For The City was the first song written by Stevie Wonder that Ray felt was right for him to record (Renaissance, 1975): "I do it a lot differently than Stevie; I cut out a lot of the musical flourishes and I put that long rap in the middle, talkin' ‘bout the rats and roaches." The song earned Ray a Grammy Award in 1975 for Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance, Male.
  1. What'd I Say 
  2. Hallelujah (I Love Her So) [by Stevie Wonder] 
  3. Living For The City [with Stevie Wonder]
  4. Busted [with Willie Nelson]
  5. Never Stop! [by Brand New Heavies]
  6. Georgia On My Mind [with Michael Bolton] 
  7. Your Cheatin' Heart [by Randy Travis]
  8. I Can't Stop Loving You [by James Ingram] 
  9. I Got A Woman [by Michael McDonald
  10. Just Ask Me To [by Tevin Campbell]
  11. Just For A Thrill (trumpet solo by Jeff Kaye)
  12. I Wish I Never Loved You at All (with Gladys Knight)
  13. Stranger In My Own Home Town
  14. America The Beautiful (with Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, a.o.)
Ad promoting the Fox broadcast on October 6th. 

The show was obviously (soft?) sponsored by Pepsi-Cola, that also decided to bring the Uh-Huh! spirit to Russia in the first-ever television commercials for Diet Pepsi seen in the Soviet Republic. Pepsi sponsored the Russian broadcast of the show.

DVD cover.
Ray & Stevie, HQ:

Integral show (90 minutes):

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