Posts Tagged ‘Ray Charles Singers’

The Other Ray Charles

Friday, August 5th, 2016

As has been noted here several times over the years, my dad wasn’t a big music fan. He’d listen to the radio some – mostly in his old 1952 Ford or when he was puttering at his workbench in the basement – with the dial tuned either to WCCO from the Twin Cities or to the country sounds of WVAL from nearby Sauk Rapids.

And after we got the portable RCA stereo in mid-1964 – it sat awkwardly on the floor in the living room or on a shelf in the dining room until the rec room in the basement was finished in 1967 – Dad bought a few records, but not many. When we cleared stuff out of the house on Kilian in 2004, I brought home fifty-some records, most of them classical recordings Dad got through the Musical Heritage Society, the ones he said that my sister and I would be glad to have someday. (He was right.)

Along with those came a number of easy listening albums, several of which I recalled clearly from the mid-1960s. I even knew where he bought them.

If you were to ask anyone who lived through the 1960s in St. Cloud where the center of downtown was, I’d guess most folks would answer “Dan Marsh Drugs.” Opened in the 1930s at the corner of St. Germain – St. Cloud’s equivalent of Main Street – and Sixth Avenue, Dan MarshDan Marsh Drugs cropped was where we – and a lot of other Cloudians – went for prescriptions and other health aids; for cigarettes and pipe tobacco and smoking accessories, for soap and perfume and similar sundries; for cameras, film and flashbulbs; for school supplies; for gifts for any occasion; and, especially after the store expanded in the mid-1960s, for Hallmark greeting cards and similar ephemera.

When you tired of shopping, you could grab refreshments in the coffee shop. (For decades, until the store closed during the 1980s, the coffee shop was also the place for many students from two nearby high schools – St. Cloud Tech and Cathedral – to gather after school for cherry cokes and French fries.)

And you could buy records there, too.

There weren’t a lot of LPs at Dan Marsh, and they were generally on what I’d consider second-line labels. I wrote long ago about Dad buying an album called Ringo at Dan Marsh, knowing I liked the Lorne Greene single; that album, and a couple others I remember, were on the Wyncote label. Another that I pulled off the shelf this morning – covers of themes from spy movies – was on the Design label.

And one day he brought home an album that sounded promising, titled Young Lovers In Far Away Places by the Ray Charles Singers, this one on the Somerset label. Now, I would have been eleven or twelve at the time, but for as little as I cared about pop music, I knew about Ray Charles. I’d likely seen him on television one time or another, and I although I couldn’t have identified his music as soul or R&B, I knew I liked what he did. So I was prepared to like the record.

(I already liked the jacket, with its minimalist design and the photo of the pretty and clearly sophisticated blonde giving her companion an unmistakably sultry look.)

Dad put the record on the stereo. The first track was “Far Away Places,” and it was soft and sweet with pretty voices and pretty backing and not at all what I would have expected – even with my limited musical awareness – from Ray Charles. And the whole record was like that, soft and pretty. I was confused, but I did nothing to clarify things. I just ignored the record. I doubt that I put it on the turntable again, or even thought much about it until Dad’s records came to me in 2004.

And then, as I went through Dad’s records, I looked at the jacket and the pretty blonde and the name of the group, and I nodded. By then, I’d become aware that there was another Ray Charles, one who wasn’t a soul and R&B singer but who was instead a songwriter, arranger and conductor, mostly for television. His Ray Charles Singers, according to Wikipedia, had performed on Perry Como’s television show (and on Como’s records, too), and began recording their own albums in 1959. “Due to advances in recording technology,” says Wikipedia, “they were able to create a softer sound than had been heard before and this was the birth of what has been called ‘easy listening’.”

Well, I think there were more midwives to the birth of easy listening than the Ray Charles Singers. I think of 101 Strings, formed in 1957, and of the Ray Conniff Singers, which began recording in 1959. Jackie Gleason’s orchestra was releasing records in the mid-1950s, and Mantovani’s recording career began in the late 1940s. And those are just off the top of my head. But there’s no doubt that the work of the other Ray Charles and his singers fit right into the easy listening music that a good chunk of the American public liked to hear at home.

And I like Young Lovers In Far Away Places today far more than I did in 1965. (And, of course, I still like the other Ray Charles, too, the one who sang “I’ve Got A Woman” and all that soul and R&B stuff.)

Here’s “Far Away Places” by the Ray Charles Singers.