Taylor Hackford on Ray Charles

Ray Charles was a wonderful songwriter, but his most famous songs, except for “What’d I Say,” were not his own. He had that unique talent that all great singers possess: He could recognize a great song and then create the definitive version of it. The difference between other great singers and R.C. is that he could deliver those definitive versions in completely different styles: gospel-blues, country/Western, jazz or pop. What a gift to songwriters Ray Charles was. I often wonder what Hoagy Carmichael must have thought when he first heard Ray’s version of “Georgia on My Mind.” Or Ted Daffan when he heard Ray sing “Born to Lose.” Or when Percy Mayfield, a great singer in his own right, when Ray recorded “Hit the Road, Jack.” I’ll bet their combined reactions were “It don’t get any better than that.” Ray is at the top of the list — everybody else should sign in below.

By the time I began to work on the film “Ray,” R.C. had already accomplished great feats of genius. He was used to doing things one way, his way, and working with him was not easy. However, he gave me an incredible gift. Most famous people want to control what’s said about them; they often want to sugarcoat their lives for posterity. Ray was something entirely different. He told me, “Taylor, just tell the truth. I can live with that.” He was indelible.

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