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09 April 2010

Ray Charles Co-Hosting The Midnight Special (1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, ?1979)

The Midnight Special was a Friday night Pop Rock variety show on NBC TV that ran for 9 years (1972 - 1981).  It was taped in front of a live studio audience at NBC Burbank, directed by Stan Harros. Concert footage was included at times. Wolfman Jack appeared each week as announcer and main host, each week also with a different guest host. Ray contributed at least 5 times.

30 March 1973
In season 1 Ray Charles hosted the 10th episode, on 30 March 1973. His guests were Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Aretha Franklin, Freeman King, and Murray Langston. Ray brought his own band and The Raelettes.

The show went like this:
Burnett and Charles.
  • Ray Charles sings Eleanor Rigby, Georgia On My Mind, What'd I Say (with Raelettes).
  • Ray Charles and the Raelettes sing I Can Make It Through The Days (But Oh Those Lonely Nights).
  • Bill Cosby talks with Ray Charles and dances while Charles sings Every Saturday Night.
  • Carol Burnett talks with Ray.
  • Aretha Franklin sings A Brand New Me.
  • Aretha Franklin & Ray Charles sing Takes Two To Tango.
  • The Raelettes sing Shake (Charles on piano). 
  • The Earl Scruggs Revue sings T For Texas & and Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven.
  • Freeman and Murray reenact the boxing scene from Great White Hope in slow motion. 
Compilation with Georgia, Tea For Two and What'd I Say:

  • Contract for the appearance of The Raelettes (Dorothy Berry, Mabel John, Susaye Greene, Vernita Moss, Estella Yarbrough) in this show.

 '73 TV Midnight-1 - Takes Two To Tango (with Aretha Franklin):

13 April 1973
The Raelettes: Vernita Moss, Dorothy Berry, Mabel John, Susaye Greene, Estella Yarbrough.

Photos (all dated on March 10...): NBC / Getty Images.
Ray was a guest in episode 12, hosted by Bill Cosby, that aired on Friday 13 April 1973, with a duet (Cosby only in a speaking role) on Early In The Morning, with Billy Preston on organ (Cosby always made Ray do "Atlantic" songs). The other guests were Steely Dan, Waylon Jennings, Taj Mahal and Fanny.

31 January 1975
Ray was back on together with Aretha on 31 January 1975 (other guests: The Byrds). Source: Paley Center Archive, ID: B:62694. In an announcement of this show, in Jet magazine (Feb. 6, 1975) specified that Ree and Ray would "join in a song during Jan. 31 celebration of second anniversary of The Midnight Special", as a caption to a still of their Tango rendition. This may suggest that just this performance was aired again in this episode.
Update: they indeed just re-broadcast the Tango song as it was taped on January 30.

30 April 1976
Ray also hosted episode 28 in season 4, on Friday 30 April 1976. He brought his Orchestra. No doubt the highlight was a version of What'd I Say with Sara Vaughan. The setlist was:
  • Every Saturday Night
  • Georgia On My Mind
  • Living For The City
  • Blues For Big Scotia
  • America The Beautiful
  • What'd I Say (with Sarah Vaughan)
Could this photo be from this show?
The contents of the remainder of the show are described here. In the second clip Ray introduces the ventriloquist duo Aaron and Freddie, who opened for Ray at many concerts, from the early 1970s well into the 1990s. The person who submitted the footage erroneously attributed the year 1978 (and episode #23) to it.

Bob Coassin, Johnny Coles, Luis Gasca, Jeff Conrad Jack Evans - trumpets; Ken Tussing, Henry Coker, Wally Huff - trombones; Bob Knedlik - bass trombone; Ed Pratt, Clifford Solomon - alto saxophones; Andy Ennis, James Clay - tenor saxophones, Bill Byrne - bariton saxophone; Scott von Ravensberg - drums; Tony Matthews - guitar; Jim Campbell - bass; Ernest Vantrease - keyboards.

Midnight Special, 1976 - Georgia On My Mind:

Midnight Special, 1976 - Aaron & Freddie:

23 July 1977
This clipping from Jet, 28 July 1977, shows that Ray contributed to yet another Special with Aretha, B.B. and Gladys, on 23 July 1977 (or did they re-use again the '73 Tango footage, as also happened in the 1975 show described above?):
A 9-DVD collectors' set (Guthy Renker, 2006) is offered here (it's unclear to me which of Ray's other performances, except Tango and Georgia, are on it - if at all). Watch the excellent DVD Promo here. Elsewhere on the web sometimes a (illegit?) 20-DVD box is promoted.

The title of this photo, when it was put up for sale on Ebay, was "1979: Musician Ray Charles performing on the television series, 'Midnight Special'."


  1. Bonjour Bob
    Je pense que le titre que chante RC au Midnight Special du 13 avril 1973 n'est pas "Early in the Morning" ,mais "It Wasn't For A Bad Luck" ecrit par brother Ray et Jimmy Lewis.JPV

  2. Je suis sur, par ce que je l'ai vu; c'est "Early In The Morning"...;-)!