Written by
Bob Stumpel

February 6

Rare Photos Of The Ray Charles Orchestra & The Raelettes In Paris (1963)

Off topic

Early photos of Ray Charles are relatively rare, but photos from the musicians in his band and of The Raelettes are really scarce. People who regularly follow this blog have seen that lately I’ve spent quite some effort in documenting the few pics that are available on the web.

That’s how I came across the Facebook page of trumpet player Phillip (Phil) Guilbeau (1926 – 2005), maintained by his daughter Nina. Browsing that page about a week ago, I found a magnificent photo of the Ray Charles Orchestra, obviously from the early 1960s. Intrigued and touched by a comment of one of Guilbeau’s grandchildren (“who are all these people”?), I shared the same photo on my own Facebook page, and asked people to help me tag the protagonists in the photo. Things went fast when Leroy Cooper biographer Susan Cross asked Joel Dufour, the #1 Ray Charles connaisseur in the world, to help me out. Joel responded immediately, with a full concordance of the musicians in the photo…

…and with one even bigger surprise. He saw that the photo was from the same series that was published on 23 May 1963 in France Soir, and added a cut out from a variant photo in that publication, where the Raelettes and singer Jean King have stepped into the frame of the Orchestra picture. The pictures were taken in Paris, Dufour writes, presumably on 22 May 1963.

Musicians: 1. Julian Priester (tb), 2. James Harbert (tb), 3. Phillip Guilbeau (tp), 4. Wallace Davenport (tp, band leader), 5. John Hunt (tp, flh), 6. Oliver Beener (tp), 7. Henderson Chambers (tb), 8. Frederic ‘Keg’ Johnson (b, tb), 9. Edgar Willis (b), 10. Wilbert Hogan (dm), 11. Elbert ‘Sonny’ Forriest (g), 12. Bennie ‘Hank’ Crawford (as), 13. James Clay (ts), 14. William ‘Buddy’ Pearson (as), 15. Leroy Cooper (bs). Singers: 16. Marjorie (Margie) Hendricks (Raelette), 17. Gwen(dolyn) Berry (Raelette), 18. Jean King (featured singer), 19. Priscilla (Pat) Lyles (Raelette), 20. Ethel (Darlene) McCrea (Raelette).

That week Ray sold out his show at the Olympia Theater for seven (May 22nd – 28th) days in a row. Jean (Louise) King (1938 – 1983), of Blossoms fame, had her own solo spot in these concerts, accompanied by Ray and the band.
David Fathead Newman was missing in the Orchestra line-up. He had been arrested for drug possession a few days before by the British police. Later that week he joined the group again in Paris (and again caused some – this time internal – drugs-related trouble), but he didn’t make it to the concerts because his place in the band was already taken by the English tenor saxophone player Vic Ash, the first white cat ever to play in Ray’s band (don’t miss his autobiography, I Blew It My Way).
Phil Guilbeau, on trumpet of course, had to fill in the flute parts on Georgia On My Mind (a partial sound recording has survived).

Some TV footage of the 1963 French tour has survived; see this.

 Band leader and trumpet player Wallace Davenport, Ray Charles, and Vic Ash. 


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