Written by
Bob Stumpel

October 25

A Radio Commercial For An Integrated Ray Charles Gig In Memphis, 1961

'61 RC Memphis

This acetate belonged to Julie Wall, “a North Kesteven Council employee who rifled more than half a million in loose change from car park cash boxes – and spent the lot on Elvis memorabilia”.

Sometimes collecting Elvis memorabilia turns out to be a relevant passtime. The B-side of this acetate is a promotional jingle for Ray Charles’ August 20, 1961, concert at the Ellis City Auditorium, the first integrated gig in Memphis.
That may be special, but its A-side is much bigger Music History News: it’s a so far unknown recording of Elvis Presley, singing Suspicion – three years before it was released as a single. The disk, made by the Tennessee radio station WHBQ, “is set to spark a bidding war when it goes under the hammer […] on November 4”.

On September 2, 1961, The New Pittsburgh Courier wrote:

“Last week down in Memphis, Ray Charles scratched a niche for himself in the history book of our times, when he became the first to ply his talent before an integrated audience in the heart of the segregated South. It was a dual victory. Even the “for colored only” signs in front of the ladies and men’s rest rooms were discarded for his performance at the auditorium. Though blind, the “soul” singing pianist, was well aware that the entire house was well mixed looking like what a human American flag should. Another significant angle of the affair was that it was promoted by William Mitchell, owner of the Club Handy, who’s also colored. It might be of interest to those died-in-the-wool segregationists to know that there were no incidents of any kind, as people, whom they said would never do it, sat side by side and exchanged the oohs and aahs of those caught up in the ecstasy of unadulterated good singing.”

This photo, by Ernest C. Withers, was probably made at this Memphis concert (my source, though, says the picture is from December 1961). F.l.t.r. David Newman, Hank Crawford, Ray Charles, Leroy Cooper. Photo by Ernest C. Withers.
From Jet magazine, Aug. 14.
From Variety, Aug. 23.


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