Ray Charles

“I’ve recorded with so many amazing artists in my career but never on a duets album of my own. I thought it was timeto have some of the friends that I love and the artists that I admire come into my studio and sing with me live, the way we did it in the old days,” explains Ray Charles on the genesis of Genius Loves Company. “All the guests brought their own magic to each song. That’s what we wanted and that’s exactly what we got.”

Ray’s confidence is understandable. Genius Loves Company stands as a remarkable hallmark in a remarkable career. In his brilliant debut for Concord Records, Ray sings a dozen duets with a dazzling array of guest artists from virtually every genre, who have won a combined 79 GRAMMY® Awards. “We cover it all,” Ray adds, “from country to R&B, pop, rock and blues. I’ve never let them put me in a little box, and this CD expresses that open feeling. A beautiful song is a beautiful song—and to sing with so many beautiful singers is a blessing from God.” Ray is enraptured by the concept of contrasts, a musical theme that resonates throughout Genius Loves Company. “I love the unexpected,” he says. “I love how we take that old country tune ‘You Don’t Know Me’—a hit for Eddy Arnold way before I recorded it in the early sixties—and re-do it with Diana Krall We make it new all over again. Same goes with Norah Jones. She’s singing country with me on ‘Here We Go Again’—and singing the hell out of it. And of course having Billy Preston on the Hammond B3—the same Billy who we discovered in the ‘60s when he was a kid—makes it even more of a family.” Rays continues, “I recorded ‘Do I Ever Cross You Mind’ in the ‘80s when I was dipping back into country music. Now here comes Bonnie Raitt proving something I’ve always said—country and blues ain’t just first cousins, they’re blood brothers.” On song selection, Ray’s approach was relatively easy; “Some of the songs I have been playing for years, some were all time favorites of mine that I’d never recorded, others were songs by the artists that I just really liked, but all were great, with real emotion.” Every track on Genius Loves Company has a special, even spiritual meaning for Ray. “B.B. King is my favorite bluesman,” he says. “One note from Lucille, and you know it’s B.B. Well, B.B. and I did a song from deep in my past—‘Sinner’s Prayer’—that I recorded during my Atlantic days in the ‘50s but learned from Lowell Fulson when I led his band before I went solo. Brother, that’s ancient history!”

On the rock side, Ray’s company couldn’t be more sterling, beginning with Elton John. “I was happy to let Elton show me an Elton song,” Ray explains, “because those songs come from his heart. ‘Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word’ is probably his best song. I’ve heard Little Jimmy Scott do it, and now I’m honored to sing it with the cat that wrote it. “Feel the same about James Taylor. His voice always soothes me. He knows the soft side of the blues. ‘Sweet Potato Pie’ is his unique style of sweet soul.” “Gladys Knight is another friend. I first knew her with the Pips. We’ve sung together at concerts and recorded other duets. Gladys is my sure-enough sister. This time I went back to an album I did with Quincy Jones in the early ‘70s called Message to the People. ‘Heaven Help Us’ is my favorite thing from that album, and to revisit it with Gladys takes me all the way back to church, my original home and inspiration.”

Ray continues to celebrate the concept of contrast. “You might not think of me and Johnny Mathis as the same kind of singers, and we’re not. But, man, when it comes to ballads we have a common love. Ballads move me. Always have. Always will. I first recorded ‘Over the Rainbow’ forty years ago on my Ingredients In a Recipe for Soul album. Singing it with Johnny is a special thrill because he has the ability to drain a ballad dry.”

“Crazy Love,” with Van Morrison, is the only non-studio production on Genius Loves Company. Ray explains: “They asked me to come to New York to help celebrate Van’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. I went because I see Van as one of the cats that has kept the faith. Like me, he’s always himself—he stays true to the music that means the most to him. It meant a lot to sing ‘Crazy Love’ on stage with Van that evening. That’s what you hear at the end of Genius Loves Company, me and Van live.”

Ray finishes, “You also hear that the title is true—I do love company, especially when the company is comprised of the beautiful singers who were good enough to lend me a hand. I have to tell them thank you. Thank you for making the music sound so good.” And when asked what he finally took away with him from Genius Loves Company, he’ll gladly tell you, “I relearned the valuable lesson that good friends are irreplaceable. And when you are with great artists and good friends, having fun making music, the end result is genius in my book.”

During a career that spans nearly six decades, Ray Charles, a 12-time GRAMMY® Award-winner and an original inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has appeared on more than 250 recordings. While he has performed with various artists in the past, Genius Loves Company will be his first full album of duets. At the helm of the recording is producer John Burk (Executive Vice President of Concord Records). GRAMMY winning producer Phil Ramone also lends his expertise for five of the tracks (“You Don’t Know Me,” “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” “Fever,” and “Crazy Love”).

Genius Loves Company marks the beginning of an ongoing relationship to produce and distribute new recordings between Concord Records and Starbucks Hear Music™. The venture builds upon Starbucks Hear Music’s commitment to enhance customers’ lives by helping them discover great music. These efforts are showcased with the groundbreaking retail music experience launched at the Starbucks Hear Music Coffeehouse in Santa Monica, California, as well as with Starbucks Hear Music’s CD compilations and CD series, including Artist’s Choice™. One of many interviews Starbucks Hear Music conducted for this series includes Ray Charles Artist’s Choice™. Released in April 2002, this album provides insights into the songs that influenced and shaped Mr. Charles’ career and features noteworthy performances from artists such as Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin and Duke Ellington.

Ray Charles received the NAACP Image Awards “Hall of Fame” honor and was named a “Cultural Treasure” by the City of Los Angeles. The area outside his central Los Angeles studios, which was declared an historic landmark, has also been renamed “Ray Charles Square.”