Gospel Meets the Blues in the Shape of Ray Charles


“The Genius” Ray Charles pioneered (arguably invented) soul music by combining elements of gospel, R&B, and blues starting with his debut album, Ray Charles (later released in the 1960s as Hallelujah, I Love Her So) in 1957. The Genius is known for having influences of Jazz (i.e. Louis Armstrong), rhythm and blues (Nat “King” Cole), country and, of course, gospel. Ray Charles has been around for several years before his debut starting with the McSon Trio releasing several singles in 1949. He also started his own band, The Ray Charles Trio, until finally settling with his solo in 1953. He released several singles later to be appeared in his debut album between 1953 and 1956.

The album starts with the symbols rhythm-ly smashing into Ain’t That Love. A love song, Ray Charles dancingly plays his signature piano and explains what love is. The song reached number nine in the R&B charts, but the number one R&B hit (the previous year, 1956) bluesily sways as Drown in my Own Tears. Ray Charles soulfully sings about heartbreak in this beautifully sung song. Come Back Baby compliments the preceding song by telling his baby to comeback and to talk it over one more time. The song first appeared two years before in 1955 climbing to number four on the R&B charts. Another bluesy song about heartbreak, The Genius powers his slow song into a head-body and face-quenching monster of a song.

One of the most prominent tracks that Charles combined gospel and blues is Sinner’s Prayer. Another beautifully sung song, Charles also shows off his talents as a piano player in this body-rocking, forgiveness-asking track. Everybody mostly knows what it’s like to have an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend that they still in love with. Ray Charles encompasses this thought into song while saying what he needs to say in the title, Funny (but I Still Love You). Sometimes gambling is bad. Especially if you gamble on love, because you’ll have Charles’ next track, a Losing Hand. Charles was playing fair, but she was playing a cheating game as explained in the track.

Some people say that people in love are fools; A Fool For You is Charles’ proving that some people are, and he did it at number one on the R&B charts in 1955. A song to stomp your feet in pain, you are sure to easily love this heartfelt song. 1956 is when Hallelujah I Love Her So first appeared, and it reached the peak of number five on the R&B charts. Charles praises the Lord for a woman that he has found. Ray Charles’ first solo charting single takes the form of the next track, Mess Around which reached number three in the R&B charts. This song can be interpreted in different ways, so it’s up to you to decide whether it’s innocent or dirty.

Charles praises his woman in This Little Girl of Mine. In 1955, this song reached number nine in the R&B charts while producing a dancing effect to anybody whose ears catch the sound waves of this up-beat number. Starting with a catchy piano solo, followed by percussion is the 1956 number one, Mary Ann. A sensational song, it proves that Charles is a master pianist, singer, music and song writer. Greenbacks is a nice blues song about the dollar bills that he has to spend on his lady. The song, complete with a mini-saxophone solo, peaked at number five in the R&B charts in 1955.

In this next charting single (reaching number ten on R&B charts in 1954), Don’t You Know bursts out with sexual references that probably sparked a lot of conversation back in the day. The final track of the album, I Got A Woman, is arguably one of Charles’ best known tracks. The track which ended up peaking at number one in the R&B charts in 1955 inspired so many artists even today. Nowadays, the younger crowd probably identifies this song with Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” where the Ray Charles’ shout “She gave me money, when I’m in need!” was a little altered, but still had the magic as it did in 1955.

The master pianist released this outstanding debut album with many charting hits seemingly with ease; as if he’s been putting out records for years. Charles’ place in history started with this album and immediately rivaled pianist, Little Richard, and singer Elvis Presley. A great album that I recommend to any blues, jazz, rock, and R&B fan.