Painfully little can be found on the Web about this TV concert.
I've watched a seemingly integral video, which carries an amateurish title card with "NOEL AVEC RAY CHARLES" in the beginning, but has filmed titles in the end, naming the show Christmas In Ettal - A Black Ceremony (the wordplay with "black" could be a reminiscence to the Black Requiem of 1971). This copy can probably be associated with a French, partial broadcast of the show on 24 December 1980 by France 2 (also titled Noël Avec Ray Charles; source: INA, ID CPB90014647; also cf. this post). A French VHS release (see illustration) adds to the confusion by using the title Ray Charles - Live.
|French VHS cover,|
- Go Tell It On The Mountain (with SJP, DL, RA, JB, JW, CW and the Choir)
- Angels Keep Watching [a.k.a. All Night, All Day] (with SJP)
- There'll Be No Peace Without All Men As One (Ray solo, piano only)
- Merry Christmas, Baby [the VHS and the video copy have "Santa Claus Blues"]
- Heaven Help Us All (with SJP, DL, RA)
- Amen (as 1.)
The tunes #1, #4 and #6 are unique recordings in Ray's repertoire. There'll Be No Peace Without All Men As One (#3) is the only known live version of this tune, which was later released on the 1978 album Message To The People.
The director of the TV program clearly did not have a grip on all events. The show started with an odd scene where you can see Ray and Sarah arriving outside the church, being welcomed by a group of priests, entering the chapel like a wedding couple who just had a fight (but still in their winter coats), and then being led to the 'stage' by a couple of sweet but clumsy Saint Lucia girls (who later turned out to be from Holland and Sweden, wishing the audience a Happy Christmas in their own language). After that Ray is being led from and to his piano a few more times (suggesting that at these points in the show - possibly Sarah, maybe also the other gospel stars - sang their solos). In the end (after Amen) the girls pick up Ray to make a bizar little round through the church, then dropping him - with a litlle bang when he lands in his chair - at the first audience row.
In a later interview Sara Jordan Powell revealed: "When James Cleveland was producing my albums, we used Ray Charles' studio one night to record. A tape of my singing was accidentally left there one night and Ray Charles came across it the next day and listened to it. He wanted to know who the singer on the tape was, and he was told that it was Sara Jordan Powell. A few years later, Ray Charles was to play and sing at a Christmas Concert in Germany. Originally, Aretha Franklin was to accompany him, but she was not available. An agent overheard and suggested me, and Ray Charles agreed since he'd heard me via that tape which was left in his office years ago."
Sal Nistico - tenor saxophone; Carmell Jones, Benny Baily - trumpet; Slide Hampton - trombone; Jimmy Jackson - Hammond; Carl Preacher - piano; John C. Marshall - guitar; Bert Thompson - bass; George Green - drums; Lamont Hampton - percussion; the München Gospel Choir; Donna Lynton, Rick Abao, Joe Bourne, John Waddel, Charles Williams - vo.
* Details taken from comments to a Youtube clip, the video copy, information provided by Joël Dufour, and (i.c. Preacher:) Sarah's Facebook page.
The show was released on VHS in France, by Cinéthèque (VCV 402), but I do not know in which year. The program was aired several times in Europe (I've found air dates in Germany and France in the early 1980s). It also aired in Holland, on 24 December 1982. A Dutch newspaper's TV page had a few additional details. The TV show was directed by Rainer Ficklscherrer.
Angels Keep Watching:
Merry Christmas, Baby:
Heaven Help Us All; Amen:
Amazing Grace (Sara Jordan Powell, solo):
The Sara & Ray story becomes a bit peculiar with this article, revealing what happened between them after the German TV adventure. I quote:
Having left Savoy Records, Sara signed with New Orleans-based label Power House Records. With considerable presumption Sara asked Ray Charles to produce her Power House album. Amazingly, the soul superstar agreed. Sara recounted, "When Carl Preacher and I went out to Los Angeles, Ray said that he would have total control [...].
At the planning session, Charles asked Powell what she wanted to record. She and Preacher played their rendition of America The Beautiful. She recalled, "He said, 'Nah, we're not gonna put that on there.' Well, later he used it himself! He got all of the notoriety. I sang that song for him and he loved it. He said, 'That's a beautiful song. I like the way you did it.' That was my arrangement and he didn't want me to put that on there and I asked why. He said, 'Just let me handle this,' so I did." The resulting LP, Affectionately Sara, was a mix of traditional church numbers and soulful mid-tempo songs. Considering that Powell was a hot commodity on the gospel market and that Charles was a recording legend, Affectionately Sara met with surprisingly poor sales.
Furthermore, it's highly improbable that Charles has ever produced any records for anyone a) without involving his own production and publishing companies, b) working with or for a minor label like Power House.* An other telling detail is that this whole strange anecdote is not known from any other source.
|From Billboard, 7 November 1981.|
I still don't understand what The Genius heard in Sarah's voice, but a few of the slower tunes are pleasant enough, and her rendition of Why Me[, Lord] is round-out remarkable in the light of the duet version of Ray (produced in 1981), as it emerged only last year from the Johnny Cash vaults.