RAY CHARLES figures that after 45 years in show business, he's a pretty good utility ballplayer who's no expert in any music field, but with variety, he keeps young at 58.
"I can play a little shortstop, I can pitch, I can play the outfield. That's the key to my longevity.
"So I'm not a jazz singer but a singer who can sing some jazz," Charles said by phone from Los Angeles. "And I'm not a rhythm and blues singer but I can sing some rhythm and blues. Same for country and western, rock 'n'roll. Fans of all these may be at the Baltimore concert."
The singer-pianist and his three-man rhythm group will be singing the famous "Georgia on My Mind" and "Your Cheating Heart" tonight and tomorrow at the already sold-out Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. (There may be a few last-minute tickets). But he'll also do songs people may not know, like "It Hurts To Be in Love."
"I do the familiar songs, but different ones, too. Not all nostalgia. You want variety," Charles said. "Let's just say, 'Good is
See CHARLES, B3, Col. 1 CHARLES, From B1 good.'
"Of course, people react different ways. Now the Italians, they'll stomp and clap and make so much noise you'd think the Earth was coming to an end. But the British or the Japanese, they're more reserved and quiet. But that's OK. Once I walk out on stage and start, people are receptive. People always know if you're genuine, and if you are, they support you."
Charles said he has to have fun with the music. Even those soft drink commercials. "If I wasn't having fun or didn't get a groove from the music, I wouldn't do them. I've turned down many TV offers. It's not my morals, it was I didn't like the song or I didn't have fun."
The Georgia boy, born Ray Charles Robinson Charles, grew up in Florida where he was blinded by glaucoma at 6 and lost both parents when he was a teen-ager. His first musical training was at a school for the blind in St. Augustine. He learned Braille, the piano and clarinet. He left school at 15 to play with local groups. It's been music ever since (and a keen chess habit.)
His first big hit was "I got a Woman" (1954). "Georgia on my Mind" came in 1959. Jazz musicians admired his inserting soul and simplicity back into jazz, and the public took to him for many reasons, not the least his accessible, friendly style.
All in all, Charles said, "I've been very blessed -- growing up in Greenville and St. Augustine, being poor, barefoot, short pants and then later on sitting down with three presidents -- Nixon, Carter, Reagan. Course, whenever I do that, people make me out to be a Republican or a Democrat depending on who I'm sitting with. I'm neither. I'm an independent."
Charles recalls coming through Baltimore in the 1950s when he was on the theater circuit that included the Apollo Theatre in New York. He's had relatives and friends here. "People have been good to me, in Baltimore and everywhere."