Written by
Bob Stumpel

October 9

Birth Of A Big Band: Ray Charles’ October 1961 Concerts In Paris

'61 LC ParisAlbum 1961 ParisConcert 1961 ParisSax

David Newman

Hank Crawford.

Don Wilkerson.

John Hunt.

Phil Guilbeau.

Keg Johnson.

Leroy Cooper.

Sonny Forriest.

Bruno Carr.

In 1961 Ray Charles conquered France. End of July he was the “artist in residence” (as we would now call it) at the Antibes festival, where he performed with his “small big band” (although he had established his first big band in the U.S., and had toured with it, in the spring of ’61). The French national broadcasting organization, ORTF, followed everything with film & sound teams, making Ray’s shows the subject of a series of broadcasts over TV and radio. The combined film/sound results are the source of the DVD Ray Charles Live In France 1961.
That “In France”-part of the DVD’s title certainly is a bit too expansive. Because if the July 1961 Antibes concerts represent the Holy Grail of Ray Charles’ live history, then the October 1961 Paris concerts surely represent the Nibelung Treasure of raycharlesiana.

Soon after his triumph in Antibes, Ray returned to Europe and France, from 18 to 24 October 1961, for concerts in Zurich (18th), Lyon (19th), and four days of shows with his new big band at the (then new) Palais des Sports in Paris (21st – 24th). The ORTF radio station France Inter send a crew to tape these concerts.
The recordings have survived, in several forms. Within the live-music part of Ray Charles’ total body of work their importance (on the levels of quality, quantity, and uniqueness) is only equaled by the Antibes 1961 footage.

These two series of gigs definitively established Charles’ fame in France, where he not only became the #1 bestselling jazz artist for many years to come, but also a seasonal phenomenon, who would be warmly welcomed to the country’s biggest venues and festivals almost every year for the next 40 years, through the years consistently covered by French radio and TV, and reaching a fame and status that matched the appreciation for the most famous local chanteurs.

Some mute footage of Ray’s landing on Orly Airport:

In this news clip (broadcast by TF-1 on October 19th),  interviewer Gilbert Lauzun aks Ray if he plans to come back to France more often, “when you are older”. Even better than that, Ray answered, “I plan to buy a villa at the French Rivièra”:

The concert series
The Ray Charles troupe gave a series of 7 concerts at the Palais des Sports in Paris in October 1961:

  • The evening of Friday, October 20th
  • The evening of Saturday, October 21st
  • The afternoon of Sunday, October 22nd
  • The evening of Sunday, October 22nd
  • The evening of Monday, October 23d
  • The evening of Tuesday, October 24th
  • Unknown date and time: according to one trustworthy testimony, Ray Charles gave a 7th concert, exclusively for U.S. troops stationed in France (the same eye witness remembered that Ray also played alto saxophone during this concert).

The concerts on the 23d and 24th were scheduled after the first four shows sold out. Contemporary industry magazines counted that the total series attracted a record-breaking total of 35,000 people (70% of them in the age group 16 to 20, a magazine concluded).

From the souvenir program of the concert series, with some (not unusual) errors in the personnel listing (collection Joël Dufour).

All in all, these 1961 big band concerts are as magnificent as the legendary 1964 Shrine live concert, but the number of tunes (and versions) is much bigger. And one could argue that the October 1961 concerts caught Ray Charles at the real pinnacle of his creativity. The sound of the band was very much the same as on the 1960 album Genius + Soul = Jazz, from which he took I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town and I’ve Got News For You, plus the instrumentals From The Heart, Moanin’ and One Mint Julep. This album atmosphere was further enhanced by Ray’s own – brilliant – (Hammond) organ playing.
But Ray went back to other parts of his ‘back catalog’ as well. He performed a number of tunes from his Atlantic years (Hallelujah I Love Her So, Yes Indeed, I Believe To My Soul, My Bonnie, What’d I Say, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Let The Good Times Roll, Just For A Thrill, Come Rain Or Come Shine), and he selected a nice set of songs from his recent recordings for ABC (Georgia On My Mind, Sticks And Stones, My Baby, Margie, I Wonder, Hit The Road Jack).
For the instrumentals he gratefully borrowed from the book of the Quincy Jones Big Band (Birth Of A Band, Moanin’, etc.), and from Hank Crawford‘s early 1960s albums. The big band charts for Come Rain Or Come Shine, Georgia On My Mind and Just For A Thrill were newly written, on Ray’s special request, by Quincy Jones. (Jones, after returning from Europe in 1960, where his big band went virtually bankrupt, in one of the most generous gestures in the history of modern music, had given his band’s book (today hopefully still present in the vaults of the Ray Charles Foundation) to Ray.
My personal favorite is one of the alternate renditions of Come Rain Or Come Shine. It’s really sensationally bluesy. Ray introduces and then afterwards thanks Don Wilkerson by name (an honorary treatment that only Johnny Coles was entitled to in later years, every time he did his solos on Am I Blue…).
The Paris audience clearly recognized most tunes, the old and the newer ones, and they abundantly showed their appreciation, adding the required delicious live flavor to the tapings.

Tapes, broadcasts and record releases
Three of the concerts were recorded by R.T.F. (Radiodiffusion Télévision Française) on mono 38 speed reel-to-reel audio tapes. These recordings are now held, in digital formats, by INA (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel), the French national Radio and TV archive. All concerts started – as they would until the end – with his band playing a set of instrumentals; Ray stepped on stage to join them on One Mint Julep, and a few more instrumentals. The Genius was joined by The Raelettes starting at the performance of Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

A. Concert of Saturday October 21, 1961, evening
Original tape INA ID LVZA/13; current ID PHZ07013245.
Tracks from this concert were broadcast by Paris Inter on October 22, in the Jazz sur Scène series, presented by André Francis.

Intro band (by André Francis)

1.      Happy Faces (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: DN – ts)

2.      Ghana Stockholm Sweetnin’ (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos: LC – bs, SF – g)

3.      Birth Of A Band (The Ray Charles Orchestra; chase: DN and DW – ts)

4.      Roll In G (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos SF – g, David Newman – fl, Don Wilkerson – ts; Hank Crawford – o)

5.      Along Came Betty (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: MB – tp)

Intro Raeletts, Ray Charles (by André Francis)

6.      One Mint Julep (With The Ray Charles Orchestra)

7.      From the Heart (With The Ray Charles Orchestra)

8.      Moanin’ (With The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: PG – tp)

9.      Let The Good Times Roll (solo: DN – ts)

10.  Georgia On My Mind (solo: DN – fl)

11.  Hallelujah I Love Her So (solo: DW – ts)

12.  Just For A Thrill (solo: PG – tp)

13.  Margie (solo: RC – o)

Intro Raeletts (by RC)

14.  Alexander’s Ragtime Band (solo: MB – tp)

15.  I Believe To My Soul

16.  My Bonnie (solo: DN – ts)

17.  I Wonder

18.  Sticks and Stones

19.  My Baby (I Love Her, Yes I Do) (ft. Margie Hendrix)

20.  Hit The Road Jack

21.  Come Rain Or Come Shine (solo: DW – ts)

22.  What’d I Say

23.   What’d I Say (Reprise)

 Outro (Pop Goes The Weasel)

B. Concert of Sunday October 22, 1961, afternoon
Original tape INA ID LVZA/14, 15; INA ID: PHZ07003992; tape ID: 2007INA08505PC0058_01 (duration 1:11:39) + 2007INA08505PC0058_02 (45:10:09).
A selection of tracks from this concert were broadcast by Paris Inter on October 29, in the Jazz sur Scène series, presented by André Francis (freely available via the INA website). The complete concert was aired by Paris Inter on April 13, 1962.
In March 2013 the contents of this latter broadcast were made available, in its entirety, for download to the general public on the INA website, against a small charge.
Through this release, the Ray Charles Orchestra recordings of Happy Faces (penned by Sonny Stitt), Whisper Not (Benny Golson), Dat Dere (Bobby Timmons), Ghana (Ernie Wilkins), Along Came Betty (Benny Golson), (In My) Solitude (Duke Ellington) in an arrangement by Quincy Jones, and Roll In G (probably written by Ray Charles) were made available to the public for the very first time.

Intro band (by André Francis)

1.       Happy Faces (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: DN – ts)

2.       Whisper Not (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: DN – ts)

3.       Dat Dere (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: HC – as)

4.       Ghana (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos: LC – bs, SF – g)

5.       Along Came Betty (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: MB – tp)

6.       (In My) Solitude (The Ray Charles Orchestra) (solo: DW – ts)

7.       Birth Of A Band (The Ray Charles Orchestra; chase: DN and DW – ts)

8.       Roll in G (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos SF – g, DN – fl, DW – ts; HC – o)

9.       Ray Minor Ray (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos: DN, DW – ts, MB, PG – tp)

Intro RC(by André Francis)

10.   One Mint Julep (With The Ray Charles Orchestra)

11.   Doodlin’ (With The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos: RC – o, PG – tp, DN – ts, LC – bs)

12.   From the Heart (With The Ray Charles Orchestra)

13.   Hallelujah I Love Her So (solo: DW – ts)

14.   Georgia On My Mind (solo: DN – fl)

15.  Margie(solo: RC – o)

16.   I’ve Got News For You

17.   Moanin’ (With The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: PG – tp)

Intro Raeletts (by RC)

18.   Alexander’s Ragtime Band (solo: MB – tp)

19.   I Believe To My Soul

20.   My Bonnie (solo: DN – ts)

21.   I Wonder

22.   Yes Indeed

23.   My Baby (I Love Her, Yes I Do) (ft. Margie Hendricks)

24.   Hit The Road Jack

25.   I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town (solo: PG – tp)

26.  What’d I Say

The tracks below that are marked with an asterisk (*) were provided to Italian RAI Radio by Radio France in 1981, as a consequence of an exchange program. They are currently only known from a copy circulating among Ray Charles fans.
The other tracks in this list were part of the same tapes, and are best known  from the Italian CD Ray Charles In Paris LIVE (Isabel BJ001CD), which was sold with an issue of Blue Jazz magazine. This CD was the origin of a bunch of subsequent bootleg CD releases.

  1. Happy Faces (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: DN – ts)*
  2. Along Came Betty (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: MB – tp)*
  3. Ghana (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos: LC – bs, SF – g)*
  4. Blue Stone (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos: HC – as, PG – tp, LC – bs)*
  5. Dat Dere (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: HC – as)*
  6. Birth Of A Band (The Ray Charles Orchestra; chase: DN and DW – ts)*
  7. Whisper Not (The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: DN – ts)*
  8. One Mint Julep (With The Ray Charles Orchestra)*
  9. Doodlin’ (With The Ray Charles Orchestra; solos: RC – o, PG – tp, DN – ts, LC – bs)*
  10. Moanin’ (With The Ray Charles Orchestra; solo: PG – tp)*
  11. Let The Good Times Roll (solo: DN – ts)
  12. Come Rain Or Come Shine (solo: DW – ts)
  13. Hallelujah I Love Her So (solo: DW – ts)
  14. I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town (solo: PG – tp)
  15. Margie
  16. Georgia On My Mind (solo: DN – fl)
  17. Alexander’s Ragtime Band (solo: MB – tp)
  18. I Wonder
  19. My Bonnie (solo: DN – ts)*
  20. My Baby (I Love Her, Yes I Do (ft. Margie Hendricks)*
  21. Hit The Road Jack
  22. I Believe To My Soul
  23. What’d I Say

Release history
Some time in the 1990s the obscure Italian magazine Blu Jazz was able to surprise their readership with a sealed-in premium pressing to one of their editions, under the title Ray Charles In Paris – Live; Palais Des Sports 22 Ottobre 1961, issued on the Isabel label. It presented 12 tracks.

Later, the same content was the subject of a whole slew of bootleggish (re-)releases. In their series “The Golden Age Of Jazz”, a slightly less obscure Italian label, Suisa, brought their 10th CD, X. Ray Charles – Genius + Soul = Jazz. Live! (JZCD 310; also released on cassette tape JZMC 310), to the collectors’ market. This CD got a much wider distribution, and is still for sale through several web shops (frequently also through Amazon UK – ASIN: B00004VOE1 – where SBA is currently mentioned as the record label).

Then there is a CD titled Ray Charles – Paris ’66, and subtitled Ray Charles – Palais des Sports – Paris – October 22, 1966. The wrong year probably was an attempt to obscure the source of this release. 

In June 2013 the little known record label Body & Soul re-released the same materials as a download-and-streaming-audio only digital album, titled Ray Charles – Live In Paris; October 22, 1961. In 2014 the Frémeaux label re-released the Body & Soul selections in a 3-CD set under the title Ray Charles – Live In Paris 20-21 Octobre 1961 / 17-18-20-21 Mai 1962 (FA5466).

BD Music in France released a Ray Charles 2-CD in their BD Blues series (23 September 2010; BDBL194 – BD100, EAN : 9782849071946; don’t miss this nice clickable brochure). It contained two of the formerly unknown tracks from the October ’61 concert(s) in Paris (INA ID LP5963-E):

  • Yes Indeed
  • My Baby (I Love Her, Yes I Do)

An incidental alternate version of What’d I Say, taped at one of the other October concerts, was released on the LP Europa Jazz (various artists; EJ 1001; Amazon ASIN nr B0030FEOR2), which also contained an October 1961-version of Come Rain Or Come Shine.

What’d I Say was also released on The Ray Charles Collection (DéjaVu, CD 2005), and  on an ‘old’ vinyl LP, I Giganti Del Jazz 1, which – as good as sure from the same concert(-series?) – also contained Georgia.

Musicians: Marcus Belgrave, Wallace Davenport, Phil Guilbeau – trumpets; John Hunt – flugelhorn; Henderson Chambers, Leon Comegys, James Lee Harbert, Keg Johnson – trombones; Hank Crawford (alto saxophone, organ on Roll in G, band leader), Rudy Powell – alto saxophone; David Newman – tenor saxophone, flute; Don Wilkerson – tenor saxophone; Leroy Cooper – baritone saxophone; Bruno Carr – drums; Sonny Forriest – guitar; Edgar Willis – bass. The Raelettes: Priscilla “Pat” Moseley Lyles, Margie Hendricks, Gwen Berry, Darlene McCrea.


Clipping from the Chicago Defender, Oct. 28, 1961. The band embarking for Europe in mid October, from Idlewild Airport. 

From Jazz Hot, Dec. 1961. Marcus Belgrave stepping forward for a trumpet solo.

From Jazz Magazine 77, Dec. 1961.

Photos of individual members of Ray’s band are extremely rare, but the series reproduced at the top of this article (from contemporary magazine articles in Jazz Magazine and Jazz Hot) even include a number of excellent close-ups. The photographer of most or all of these pics was J.P. Leloir.
Here come the most interesting remaining pics:

Sax section with David Newman, Rudy Powell, Don Wilkerson, Leroy Cooper.

Cover of Jazz Magazine 77, Dec 1961 (collection J.P. Verger).

Clipping from unidentified magazine.
From a photo print, dated 24 October, offered on Ebay.

Left to right: Hank Crawford – as; Ray Charles – o, voc; Edgar Willis – b; Bruno Carr – dm; Sonny Forriest – g; Rudy Powell – as, David Newman – ts, fl; Don Wilkerson – ts; Leroy Cooper – bs. Photo: Roger-Viollet/Getty.

Ray at his Hammond.

Photo by Philippe Gras, attributed by source to ’68 show at La Pleyel, but it must be from one of the ’61 concerts.

Photo by Hervé Gloaguen.

Getty hasn’t credited any photographer for these four photos.

From a story related to Ray’s drugs problems, in Ciné Revue, 1961.

From Jazz Hot, #17, Nov. 1961 (collection J.P. Verger).

From Jazz Hot, #17, Nov. 1961 (collection J.P. Verger).

The Raelettes, from right to left: Priscilla “Pat” Moseley Lyles, Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Darlene McCrea  (collection J.P. Verger).

The Raelettes, from left to right: Priscilla “Pat” Moseley Lyles, Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Darlene McCrea(collection J.P. Verger).

From Jazz Hot, Dec. 1961: Priscilla “Pat” Moseley Lyles, Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Darlene McCrea (collection J.P. Verger).

From the legacy of Kurt Mohr – a Swiss citizen, living in Paris, who established the European jazz discography tradition as we know it today, and who, contrary to most jazz discographers, always also dealt with Blues and R&B, and became the specialist in this area – I can also present the following snap shots:

Phil Guilbeau, John Hunt, Kurt Mohr, David Newman.

Leroy Cooper and Kurt Mohr.

Kurt Mohr and Ray Charles.

And then there were a number of publicity shoots during the band’s stay in Paris, some with excellent results (the first black and white balcony photo below, by Claude Azoulay for Paris-Match, is famous):


From an article in Paris Match, Nov. 1961 (coll. J.P. Verger).

Leaving his hotel before the concerts; from Cinémonde N° 1419, Oct. 17; coll. André Monnot).

For (links to) more photos see the 1961 Chronology page.


Concert posters at Palais des Sports. The police are
detaining FLN demonstrators at the venue, on Oct. 17.
Photos by Patrice Gabans/Getty.

In July 1961 a Dutch newspaper announced that Marlene Dietrich would perform during the intermissions of Ray’s October concerts. Not true;-!
Use this as a starting point for the much sadder story on the “Algerian” October riots in Paris, and Ray’s (marginal) role in them.

These truly historical concerts deserve an “audiophile” release, also to put an end to all dilettante bootleg releases. A “final” search for all surviving tapes should be conducted in the vaults of INA (and preferably also in the archives of other national radio organizations in Europe). Alternate versions should be analyzed. The best tracks should be selected for a balanced basic release, but of course I’d like to see the alternative takes added as bonus materials!
The good news is that most of the selection work has already been done by Joël Dufour, who in 1989 and 1990 successfully intermediated in a preliminary agreement between Ray Charles Enterprises and a French record company to issue a Double-CD with a selection of 24 tracks from the October concerts. (Why this initiative did not reach the market, is a separate, sad and sometimes funny story, which once may be told by Dufour himself).
Such a release, of course, would also be an excellent occasion to write and publish the amazing and necessary “1961 – 2001 Reception History of Ray Charles in France”.

Many thanks to J.P. Verger, André Monnot – and to Jean-François Pitet of the Hi de Ho blog for providing me with some newspaper clippings. Special thanks to Jeff Helgesen for identifying Solitude. Very special thanks to J. Dufour for his – as always – very valuable input.


Unknown — 2015-09-29 21:17:20

Dear Bob, I would be interested to know if you are aware of anything in the Ray Charles archives that might point to the local context of his concerts at the Palais des sports in October 1961? I am working on a project that has nothing to do with Ray, but deals with a round up of Algerians in Paris (on October 17, 1961). Some 10,000 Algerians were held at the Palais des sports for several nights--but the venue had to be cleared for the concert. I am curious as to whether there is any mention of this (or of the general context of the Algerian war for independence) in the correspondence or other material that might have been collected by Ray's entourage, etc... Many thanks in advance. If you aren't aware of anything related to these events, would you be able to point me to archives that might contain such information? Lia Brozgal

Don Wilkerson — 2014-02-25 03:14:46

Don Wilkerson, Sr. was the oldest son Houston Alvin Wilkinson. Carl Alvin Wilkinson is his brother on his mother Carrie Williams Hayes of Evergreen, Louisiana. Don was born in Moreauville, Louisiana, Louisiana. As his 1st cousin we were together across the bayou two or three times and I saw Don, Jr. who lives in California once at the Bayou Classic at uncle Houston. Lawrence

Anonymous — 2011-11-02 17:40:27

cher Bob Le magazine non identifie (photo de Ray avec le commentaire "c'est comment Paris ?) est "Paris Match" ,N°657 date du 11 novembre 1961.Larticle fait 4 pages ou dominent des photos. Bien amicalement.JPVerger

Bob Stumpel — 2011-10-18 00:01:29

This comment has been removed by the author.

Anonymous — 2011-10-11 17:23:04

Bob ,excuse moi,je viens de retrouver la revue d'ou j'avais tire la photo des Raeletts. Elle provient bien d'un des concerts au Palais des sports de Paris a l'automne 1961. Ne tiens pas compte du post anterieur. §§Cette photo provient du Jazz Magazine de Decembre 1961 (n. 77)photo du regrette JP Leloir. amicalement.JPVerger.

Anonymous — 2011-10-11 17:01:20

En effet ,il s'agit d'une photo des Raelettes prise a l'Olympia en Mai 1962.(de Jean-Pierre Leloir) JPverger

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