Written by
Bob Stumpel

September 9

Ray Charles Discussing 9/11 On The Today Show (2001)

01 TV Today

The weeks after the 9/11 attack the American airwaves were filled with patriotic songs. Ray’s America The Beautiful was probably the song that was most frequently played.
On 3 october 2001 NBC’s Today Show had a 5-minute item titled Singer Ray Charles Discusses His Tribute to America With His Patriotic Music (IDs: 5114045222_s40; NY-TDY-20011004-0001; Ardome  1100100612198493322), offering a “look at the patriotic songs paying tribute to America since the tragic terrorist attacks”.

Rare playbacked version of original arrangement – in patriotic setting, from 1976:

Other versions of America, currently available online, can be watched here.

The script of the 2001 Today Show item was:

MS: American flag waving in crowd.
SUPERIMPOSITION: American flag and singer Ray Charles singing and playing piano.
MS: Charles singing.

MS: In interview in part VO Charles says “It talks about the country and its beauty. “For spacious skies.” You see, it talks about the country. “For amber waves of grain, purple mountains majesty.”

SUPERIMPOSITION: Charles sings and audience waves American flags.

MS: Charles says “I think music is within all of us, some kind of music. It might not be my kind, it might not be your kind, but I’ve never met anybody in my life who didn’t like some form of music. And, of course, you know, when we are sad, music is the thing that we lean on, you know, to give us comfort.”

CU: Man sings “America” with others in background.

MS: Choir holds candles and sings “America.”

MS: African-American man stands at podium and sings “America.”

MS: African-American woman sings.

MS: Charles says “That’s truly a great thing. That it’s just sad that it had to come to this, you know what I mean? It’s sad. But I guess it just goes back to show you how great this country is, though. You can knock me down, you know, but you can’t knock me out.”
STILL: Firefighters raising American flag at World Trade Center ground zero disaster site.

MS: Charles says “I can visualize in my mind’s eye these huge buildings, 112, 114 floors, tall, huge, gigantic, and all of a sudden, you see them one minute and the next minute, it’s all rubble. And the people, you know, you just imagine the people that were inside this building. I can see all the suffering.”

WS: World Trade Center buildings and skyline.
PANNING: Building rubble at ground zero.
WS: Rubble and building remains.
MS: Search dog walks through rubble.

MS: Charles says “I guess in a way, I am kind of glad because I know it’s devastating to people who can see, so I know I would not be any different. It would be devastating to me, so maybe it’s just as well that I just visualize it and not see it.”

2 MS: Firemen hug.

MS: Charles sings and plays organ on stage.
MS: Former President Bill Clinton looks on from dark audience.
2 MS: Charles and Clinton backstage exchange pleasantries.

BRIEF CUTS: Charles performs on stage. People hold hands and sway back and forth as Charles plays on stage.

MS: In interview Clinton says “Well, I think, you know, it’s not just the words, it’s the beauty of the song. It sort of captures everything we want to believe about ourselves and everything that the people of New York, the people at the Pentagon, the people in that field in Pennsylvania have confirmed about the best in America. And I think, you know, to have a guy that’s been doing it as he has for more than 50 years, it’s important.”

MS: Charles says “I’m just so gratified, you know, and I’m very thankful that people love my work, and they like what I try to do because I do strive to give the people all of me. You know, I mean, I don’t short-change, you know. When I do anything in my music, I’m very sincere about it, you know, and I give it all I’ve got.”

MS: Charles performs on stage.

MS: Clinton says “That’s my favorite version of America The Beautiful. And I can’t say enough about him.”

MS: Charles says “It’s a wonderful thing when you create something and the public acknowledges it, and they realize what you’re trying to say or what you’re trying to do. It really makes you feel extraordinarily warm inside. There’s no… I don’t really know any other way to put it. It’s a marvelous feeling.”

WS: Crowd waving American flags in an audience.
MS: Statue of Liberty.
MS: Charles sings America The Beautiful.

As he said, Ray was no doubt totally sincere, but as usual he also took care of the business side, leveraging his patriotic appeal, so to speak. A year after the 9/11 attacks Rhino/WEA e.g. released a compilation, Ray Charles Sings for America, spanning the Ray Charles Songbook from 1960 to 1997. The 20th track, God Bless America Again, was newly produced for this release, and so was a monologue titled Ray Reflects On America, talking about “how wonderful and great, and lovely and beautiful this country we live in is”.


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