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22 April 2010

Ray Charles Claims Elvis Is Not The King On NBC's Now (1994)


From Jet, 25 July 1994:
Musical genius Ray Charles says Elvis copied musical style of blacks; he's not 'The King.'
Legendary musician Ray Charles recently told the world what he thinks of Elvis Presley, who is known as the king of rock |n' roll. Appearing on the NBC news program Now [aka Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric (BS)], Charles told Bob Costas that Elvis' main contribution was that he got white people to start listening to music that they normally wouldn't have listened to.
"I guess I'm going to lose at least a third of my fans," Charles, 63, conceded, as he spoke quite frankly about Elvis. "To say that Elvis was so outstanding, like they say, he's the king, I don't think of Elvis like that because I know too many artists that were far greater than Elvis."
Charles, whose incredible career has spanned six decades, said Elvis was a person who came along at the right time. "Here was a white kid that could rock and roll, or rhythm and blues, or whatever you want to call it, and the girls would swoon over him."
He pointed out that, "Nat Cole got in trouble in Alabama when the women swooned over him. Got put out of town. And black people been going out shaking their behind for centuries. What the hell's so unusual about that?"
The superstar who learned to play the piano at age 3, and lost his sight to glaucoma at 7, said Elvis essentially copied the musical style of black artists.
"He was doing our kind of music. He was doing the Willie Mae Thornton Jailhouse Rock. That's black music. So what am I supposed to get so excited about, man? I think all that stuff about saying he's the king, that's a piece of bunk."
During the interview, Charles also told Costas that he's not a blues singer, a jazz singer, or a country singer. "But what I am is, I am a singer that can sing the blues, I am a singer that can sing jazz, I am a singer that can sing country. I don't specialize in nothing. I am a utility guy." When asked where he would go and what he would do if he could see for one day only, Charles replied: "Oh. I can't even imagine anything like that. I just don't know because I don't know of any place. If I could see for a day I would probably just stay where the hell I am and just smoke it over."
A video copy of this excellent interview is sometimes for sale on the Web.

31 comments :

  1. That's hilarious because I have always thought that Ray Charles was really no better than a lot of musicians from his time and that he only became as famous as he did because he was blind.

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    1. Nasty thing to say about The King from Charles. If anybody is overrated it's Ray Charles - his voice is awful even though I have a compilation.

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    2. You make a lot of sense, thank you for sharing your observations and for informing us about the extent of your record collection.

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  2. His statements nevertheless show that he saw things re Elvis in a correct perspective.

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    1. Ray sounds a little bitter, as do many of the black artists from that era--and for good reason. The musical world pre-Elvis was divided to a degree that is almost unimaginable today. Still, in dismissing Elvis, I do think that Ray overlooks a number of things, especially one huge fact--that during the 1950's, black audiences embraced Elvis's music at least as much as whites (if not more so). Just check the Billboard Charts, after Fats Domino, the bestselling artist among black audiences was Elvis Presley! Elvis sold more records to blacks than Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Drifters, Ruth Brown, Jackie Wilson, OR Ray Charles. And while Fats had R&B chart hits from 1950-1959, Elvis didn't break nationally until 1956, and he was in the army for most of '58 & '59 and not recording! Yet he STILL proved more popular among black record buyers during that decade than Ray Charles and many other deserving black performers. Elvis even had hits on the r&b charts that were not hits anywhere else (i.e. "Mean Woman Blues" in 1957). Furthermore, Elvis's appeal was so widespread that it was not at all unusual for one of his hits to top all three charts (pop, r&b, c&w) simultaneously! That is a feat that is virtually unprecedented and never equaled--not even by The Beatles, who unlike the Stones and even The Beach Boys (!?) NEVER placed on the r&b charts!
      Aside from Ray ignoring Elvis's historical importance, I also agree with several responders that he (ironically) fails to recognize the common bonds that unite these two great artists--especially the fact that both were comfortable and successful at singing and blending a number of separate musical genres, including pop, blues, country, r&b, gospel, bluegrass, etc. And like most great artists, both Ray and Elvis were capable of not just "covering" a song but transforming it in the process and making it their own--so much so that the original was often forgotten. Both Ray and Elvis are great and unique artists, supremely talented, and unquestionably of lasting historical significance. However, when it comes to historical impact, there is no way that Elvis doesn't come out on top. Maybe he was in the right place at the right time, as Ray states, but that doesn't diminish his importance. The point is that Elvis was equal to the task, Ray. And he changed the world in the process. Elvis never wrote a song, while Ray wrote some immortal classics. Ray was a jazz cat, and by his own admission, Elvis was never comfortable with jazz. But then, Ray couldn't handle opera, and Elvis did. And who criticizes Sinatra for not writing his own material? It's like dissing Brando because he didn't write "Streetcar Names Desire." Both Ray and Elvis can, in my book, justifiably be labeled geniuses. In their prime, both of them were talented beyond belief and performers without equal. Both of them richly deserve to be remembered and revered for their music. However, with no disrespect to Ray's musical legacy, when it comes down to record sales (even among solely black audiences), influence, and especially, historical impact, Elvis Presley clearly trumps Ray Charles--and every other artist of that era.
      One last criticism--did it bother anybody else that Ray talks about Elvis singing "Willie Mae Thornton's 'Jailhouse Rock'"? She sang "Hound Dog," Ray. "Jailhouse Rock" was an Elvis original, a 1957 song that topped the pop, r&b, and country charts simultaneously, and that was performed as the finale of your movie "The Blues Brothers." It also was written not by Ms. Thornton but by two white Jewish kids from New York, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who, in addition to "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock" wrote hits for you and just about every other r&b and rock'n'roll performer in existence. Give credit where it's due, Ray. And get it right.

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    2. Well written and 100% correct.

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    3. Like many others who historically disadvantaged..Black musicians have had their music styles copied by white entertainers who in turn became more financially and publically successful. This practice still occurs in today's music society.. Eminem, Justin Bieber, Robin Thicke.. and the list goes on

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    4. True for many black artists, but not so much for RC.

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  3. What is a great artist other than someone who appealed to the audience of his/her time? Ray Charles was a phenomenon in his day. But today he probably wouldn't survive. Both men could sing blues, rock, country, gospel, etc and were legendary. But Elvis had a wider appeal for whatever reason. Ray Charles can play the race card all day but it doesn't change the fact that for the audience of THAT time period, Elvis had a bigger following. Personally I still like Ray's music today and its a bit disappointing to hear what sounds like a bit of bitterness that came out in his old age. A classier move would have been to recognize the talent rather than whine. Elvis made respectful comments about the Beatles, for example, and vice-versa. This just comes across as bitterness from someone with a great career who didn't like not being "the King" himself.

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    1. Did you mean to say Whiter or wider??? I'm sorry, even written communication gets distorted or blurred when its content is contrasted by reality.

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  4. See my earlier comment, above.

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  5. Ray Charles was certainly a great artist, but he didn't seem to realize the irony of his comments. He embraced country music which to a large extent was a musical form developed by white artists. Should Leontyne Price not have been celebrated because she was singing music that was European of origin? Elvis was a great artist and Ray's comments were petty

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    1. Are you implying that Ms Price enjoyed the same celebrity as her contemporary, Beverly Sills? Further, your knowledge of Country music is dim, to say the least. It would not have been were it not for the Black influence. That is not prejudicial, it's a historical fact recognized by anyone in Country, from Johnny & June Carter Cash, Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Pardon, Jimmy Dean, Roy Clark, Buck Owens, Hank Williams, Sr., Patsy Cline, etc.

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    2. Boy, your comment is dim. C&W came first from those who arrived largely from the British Isles.

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  6. The communis opinio is that "the oft ignored black contribution to country and hillbilly music went far beyond providing the banjo and Charley Pride. Southern rural musicians drew upon a common well, segregated into blues, country, and folk by recording companies and folklorists only well into the 20th century. Until the explosive emergence of the blues a century ago, blacks played fiddle and banjo for dances throughout the South, entertaining audiences of both races and often playing with European-American musicians". Cf. (e.g.) http://destee.com/index.php?threads/african-american-origins-of-country-music.37158/

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    1. Country is not devoid of the influence of black musicians, nor would I make that claim. However it should be mentioned that it was largely rooted in European folk music brought by immigrants to America. In any case, it is doubtful that Ray Charles was never influenced by a white musician, whether they were a country or other genre of musical artist. Elvis was certainly influenced by black musicians as well as white, but he also contributed his own personal style to his music. The following is an interesting article regarding Elvis....http://clatl.com/cribnotes/archives/2012/08/20/why-i-stopped-hating-elvis-presley

      I'll say it once more, Ray Charles was a great artist, but his comments were petty.

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    2. No, Reggie182, but your is. Bob Stumpel gave us a scholarly, detailed and fact-based support for his position. Your argument is based, sadly, on your not wanting those facts he presented, to be true. Trying to justify the ridiculous claim that Elvis Presley was the "King of Rock and Roll", is as immoral as arguing the legitimacy of the Confederate Flag.

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  7. I strongly recommend this excellent article, covering virtually all aspects, in all relevant shades, of the mutual appreciation between black artists and Elvis: http://www.elvis.com.au/presley/elvis-not-racist.shtml

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  8. Barry K. Hastings04 August, 2015 17:51

    People do not understand that if Elvis had not recorded That's all right momma black singers could not have got on the radio in the South or the North and who did President L.B.J. go to get the equal rights voting act through! Also he said he was just lucky to come in at the right time and he stated Fats Domino was the king of rhythm and blues and he supported Martin Luther King jr. before almost anybody and he hated John Edgar Hoover for spying on the King family. Also almost any black person could visit him at Graceland and check on who killed Marylin Monroe and why Jackie Robinson did not like the Kennedy's and without E.P.Enterprises no entertainer could have received royalties after death. He also payed off the debts of Jackie Wilson and Ivory Joe Hunter and also the black woman in the wheel chair and this is just the tip of the iceberg. He also wrote and arranged songs,check don't be cruel and Sammy Davis jr.,Johnny Mercer,Henry Manciene or George Burns or lenoarde Bernstein. Barry K. Hastings

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  9. DO read "Elvis Presley and Racism : The Ultimate, Definitive Guide" for a balanced overview - http://www.elvis.com.au/presley/elvis-not-racist.shtml#sthash.7ZuRy7bf.dpuf"

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  10. Elvis could sound like Ray Charles but Ray could never sound like Elvis. Listen to this live cover by Elvis of I Got a Eomsn. (Ray Charles song). In the beginning Elvis is imitating Ray with the well, well, wells. Pretty good. Elvis was was a phenom. Hopefully another guy like him will come along in my lifetime as I never got saw him as I was not born before he died.

    http://youtu.be/xEyq-7gLtmA



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  11. Like Elvis imitating Ray at the beginning?

    http://youtu.be/xEyq-7gLtmA



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  12. That's not an imitation. And no, I don't like it all.

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  13. Elvis never saw nor spoke to Presley. That would have changed his mind,

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  14. ray was just jealous. elvis loved all music. bb king said music belongs to everyone. sing it the way you want too. he said elvis is the king.

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  15. All these Elvis fans can't stand to hear Ray making some good points. The fact is that culturally, the impact that Elvis had is undeniable, but as musician, he was far from exemplary, or revolutionary.
    Elvis himself knew this, saying,
    "'A lot of people seem to think I started this business, but rock n roll was here a long time before I came along'. 'Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people'. 'Let's face it: I can't sing like Fats Domino can. I know that'."
    The title of "king" was not one that Presley gave himself. It was foisted upon him by people who didn't know what the they were talking about. It's fine to like Elvis as a musician and a person. He seemed like a decent guy. Flawed, but who isn't? And he had a pretty good voice and good taste (sometimes). But to call him the "King Of Rock & Roll" and put him above everyone else is an insult to the people who truly revolutionized American music in the 1940's and 50's.
    I don't expect to change any minds on this. The cult of Elvis is still so firmly entrenched that his fans will never accept anything other that Elvis was the greatest. Period. It truly is a shame that he isn't here to set them straight.

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    1. No insult. Perhaps you could tell us who all those in the 40s & 50s who "revolutionized" American music. And insult those who you think don't "know what they are talking about." Elvis had a great voice and was able to sing a variety of song styles. Charles had a distinctive voice, but not a great one. Too bad he didn't recognize his own limits.

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  16. Elvis was important as a pop icon ray charles practically invented rythm and blues and soul music by putting blues lyrics over top of gospel and linear rythms. His voice was not as nice as elvis,so perhaps but ray charles had to sit as he sang so he only ever had two thirds of the breath support elvis did yet his range was almost equal to elvis. Note that ray said what he said not bashing elvis as a singer or musician admitting that elvis could "ROCK AND ROLL" but simply said he didn't think he was the king. The king of rock and roll should be the original artists who recorded that style of music not the people who popularized it. Amen to ray charles

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