Written by
Bob Stumpel

November 20

Ray Charles Sings Reaching For The Dream, A Jingle For UNCF (1977)


In a recent update of my post on Ray’s contributions to the Parade Of Stars telethons for the UNCF (United Negro College Fund), I wrote about an undated PSA, archived by the Paley Center for Media, where “Ray Charles explains in a jingle that a whole new generation [of black students] is ‘reaching for the dream that spells tomorrow.'”

This infomercial was part of a long running campaign with the evergreen-slogan “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, created in 1971 by Y&R.  Sheldon Harris, in Blues Who’s Who specifies that these commercials ran in 1977 – 1978, the sixth campaign year.

Ray Charles expert Joël Dufour informed me that the jingle was the soundtrack of an infomercial that was distributed (I assume only to media) on 8mm film (in 60 and 30 second versions). Ray did not appear in the film.

UNCF, probably as part of the same action to get TV and radio stations involved in airing these materials, also ordered for a small quantity of DJ-only 45RPM singles.*
The commercial was directed by Gordon Parks; the jingle penned by Bill Eaton (cf. comments). The campaign was kicked off in April.

I have submitted the track of this single to YouTube:

In a comment on YouTube, Stefanie Pezzino wrote: “From [what] I remember, the commercial features a boy on his way to the library. There was another boy walking beside him at one point on crutches. For reasons unknown, the part in the commercial where the handicapped boy & girl [were] dancing together with braces on their ankles gave me nightmares. All [in] all, great campaign with a great message! Would love to see it again.”

* Has anybody ever seen a physical copy of this single; does anybody know an embeddable source for the actual film versions?

Update 22 January 2019:
Here’s the commercial seen by Ms. Pezzino:


Lorraine — 2014-02-01 16:53:45

OMGoodness, I love this version! In 1984, ultra diva Leontyne Price belted out an opera version of this Bill Eaton tune and it just brings me tears how wonderful she sounds. Great to know that the legendary Ray Charles sang it years earlier. I was young and don't remember the UNCF campaigns until I heard Madame Price on the commercial. youtube.com/watch?v=N5TnOPsfvPk This is great information! Thanks.

Bob Stumpel — 2011-12-12 10:29:08

@a_mo - That seems highly probable. You're writing about an article "from 1978" and "April 20, 1977". What year was it?

a_mo — 2011-12-12 05:00:38

I am beginning some work on the UNCF and Ad Council campaign and stumbled across your page. A New York Times article from 1978 mentioned a new UNCF ad with Ray Charles singing a Bill Eaton song. Is that this one? Dougherty, Phillip H. “Advertising: Stemming Wasted Minds.” New York Times. April 20, 1977. —at Y&R the Ad Council unveiled the newest multimedia campaign for the UNCF. Broadcast segment includes Bill Eaton song sung by Ray Charles, commercial directed by Gordon Parks

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