[The group was promoted with their name spelled in different ways: The Raelettes, The Raeletts, The Raelets, the Raylettes, etc. On this blog, I have consistently chosen to go for the Raelettes spelling. In the listings below I have ‘normalized’ the spelling of a few titles].
Ray ‘discovered’ The Cookies* in 1956, in Philadelphia. That night he went out to a concert by the Lionel Hampton Band. Chuck Willis opened the show, and he was accompanied by the girls. Ray, as he later stated, was immediately hooked on their way of singing. He had already recorded Drown In My Own Tears with Mary Ann Fisher, supported by two other girls, but now he wanted to make this kind of female backing vocals part of his sound, permanently.
He first invited them for a recording session in New York, where they taped Lonely Avenue, I Want To Know and Leave My Woman Alone. In 1958 they were re-baptized as The Raelettes (Raeletts, Raelets, etc.), rejecting the alternative name “The Silver Bells” (see below: sub 1958 and LA Sentinel article from 1960), and started touring with The Genius.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ray put a lot of effort in establishing the girls as an individual act – in the studio, and later also as a performing act. In 1967 and 1968 the featured line-up was: Merry Clayton (lead), Clydie King (contralto), Gwen Berry (alto) and Alex Brown (tenor). After that, the most productive line up was: Mable John, Susaye Greene, Vernita Moss, and Estella Yarbrough.**
* For the (complicated!) full history of The Cookies, read John Clemente’s Girl Groups: Fabulous Females Who Rocked The World (Bloomington, 2013; good, but not without errors). ** In the summer of 1968 the line-up was Rita Graham, Beverly Ann Lesure and Susaye Green; on 8 October 1968 Verlyn Flenaugh, Susaye Greene, Beverly Ann Lesure, Barbara Nell Terrault were on stage. Mable John joined Susaye Greene, Vernita Moss, Estella Yarbrough in March ’69. In October 1971 the line-up was: Dorothy Berry, Susaye Greene, Mable John, Vernita Moss. In April 1972: Dorothy Berry, Susaye Greene, Mable John, Vernita Moss, Estella Yarbrough. None of the later line-ups were involved in recording The Raelettes as a separate act.
- One Hurt Deserves Another (Single (A): Tangerine 972 – 1966)*
- One Room Paradise (Single (B): Tangerine 972 – 1966)
- Into Something Fine (Single (A): Tangerine 976 – 1967)
- Lover’s Blues (Single (B): Tangerine 976 – 1967)
- All I Need Is His Love (Single (A): Tangerine 984 – 1968)
- I’m Gettin’ ‘Long All Right (Single (B): Tangerine 984 – 1968)
- I Want To Thank You (Single (A): Tangerine 986 – 1968)
- It’s Almost Here (Single (B): Tangerine 986 – 1968)
- I Want To (Do Everything For You) (Single (A): Tangerine 1006 – 1970)
- Keep It To Yourself (Single (B): Tangerine 1006 – 1970)
- Bad Water (Single (A): Tangerine 1014 – 1970)
- That Goes To Show You (Single (B): Tangerine 1014 – 1970)**
- Here I Go Again (Single (A): Tangerine 1017 – 1971)
- Leave My Man Alone (Single (B): Tangerine 1017 – 1971)
- Come Get It, I Got It (Single (A): Tangerine 1024 – 197?)
- Try A Little Kindness (Single (B): Tangerine 1024 – 197?)**
- You Must Be Doing Alright (Single (A): Tangerine 1029 – 197?)
- You Have A Way With Me (Single (B): Tangerine 1029 – 197?)
- If You Wanna Keep Him (Single (A): Tangerine 1031 – 1973)
- Many Rivers To Cross (Single (B): ABC 1015 – 1971-03 [flipside is Booty Butt by the Ray Charles Orchestra]
*Ray Charles – organ.
**Ray Charles – keyboards.
- One Hurt Deserves Another (#76 Pop; #24 R&B))
- I Want To (Do Everything For You) (#96 Pop; #39 R&B)
- Bad Water (#58 Pop; #40 R&B)
- I’m Gettin’ ‘Long Alright (#23 R&B)
- I Want To Thank You (#47 R&B)
1971* – Album: Souled Out; Ike & Turner With The Raelettes
The Raelettes also toured with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in 1970 and 1971. Tangerine released an odd album featuring both acts, both doing their own things: Souled Out, in 1971 (TRCS-1511). Ray played keyboards on all the Raelettes’ tunes.
- I Want To Thank You
- It’s Almost Here
- All I Need Is Love
- I’m Gettin ‘Long Allright
- One Room Paradise
- Into Something Fine
- A Lover’s Blues
- One Hurt Deserves Another
Ike & Tina contributed Anything You Wasn’t Born With, I’m Hooked. Beauty Is Just Skin Deep and Dust My Broom.
1972 – Album: (Ray Charles Presents The) Raeletts, Yesterday… Today… Tomorrow
The individual Raelettes recording this album (Tangerine TRCS 1515, 1972) weren’t named in the liner notes (which do claim that “The name of the Raeletts is an exclusive property of Ray Charles Enterprises, Inc.”), but the photos show that it’s the quintet consisting of Vernita Moss, Susaye Green, Mable John, Dorothy Berry and Estella Yarbrough.
The songs were arranged by Ray Charles, Ray Jackson, Roger Neumann and Sid Feller. The engineering was done by Ray and David Braithwaite.
Ray Charles is present on every track, on keyboards, and sometimes also singing or humming.
In an interview from July 2004 Mable John remembered:
“At the end of 1970, we went to Mexico City and we were booked by ourselves. It was supposed to be for two weeks but they kept us for eleven. We packed the room every night and Ray flew down to see us. He caught our show, he wanted to see how we were doing. The following year, he booked us in Japan during our off season and he had every girl in the group learn at least two songs they could lead. When we came back, he said, ‘I want to do an album on you’, and that’s when we did the one Raelet[te]s’ album, Yesterday, Today and Forever [sic!]. We all sang and Ray always pushed everyone on. If you hit a wrong note, he would play it on stage so you got it right. I loved talking back to him on stage on songs because that helped make the show spicy. And Ray was great with me: he never contradicted anything I said to the group and his attitude was, ‘I gave you the position of leader, I won’t go behind you’ and he lived by that standard, even after I left the group…”Mable John
- You Must Be Doing Alright**
- Bad Water*
- Come Get It I Got It*
- You Have A Way With Me*
- Love Train
- I Want To (Do Everything For You)*
- Leave My Man Alone*
- After Loving You (ft. Susaye Greene)
- Keep It To Yourself*
- Here I Go Again*
* Keyboards – Ray Charles.
**Lead singer Mable John, Ray sings a brief solo.
1993 – Compilation album: The Raelettes; Hits And Rarities
This compilation missed the songs I Want To Thank You and It’s Almost Here. They added a few tracks that were independently recorded by Margie Hendricks. Compilation: Titanic Records TR-CD 4422, 1993.
- You Must Be Doing Alright
- Bad Water
- Come Get It I Got It
- You Have a Way With Me
- Love Train
- I Want To (Do Everything For You)
- Leave My Man Alone
- After Loving You
- Keep It To Yourself
- Here I Go Again
- That Goes To Show You (ft. Susaye Greene)
- Let No One Hold You**
- A Lover’s Blues**
- I’m Gettin’ ‘Long Alright
- All I Need Is Love
- One Hurt Deserves Another
- One Room Paradise
- Into Something Fine
- It’s Alright A Lover’s Blues****
- Try a Little Kindness
- Many Rivers To Cross
- If You Wanna Keep Him (ft. Vernita Moss)
- I Found My Love***
- Now the Hurt’s On You***
- My Baby*
*Ray Charles sings; cf.this.
**From Margie Hendricks’ Tangerine singles.
***From Margie Hendricks’ Mercury singles (TRC 940).
****Mis-titled on the album.
Merry Clayton, in a 2013 interview, said:
“The level of professionalism is what I learned from Brother Ray. He sort of took me under his wing. I was a baby. He called me Sister Merry. He took Billy [Preston] and me under his wing, and he would just be on my case all the time. There were certain songs we’d do, they’d have four singers: he didn’t have three, like everybody else; he had four singers. So the harmonies were very, very close and very, very tight, and if you missed a note, I mean not only the singers, but also the trumpet or the trombone player missed a note, Ray would hear it. Period.
So we were singing a song called “Together Again”, and I could not hear the second part. At that time Bobby Womack was in the band; he was the guitar player, and my husband-to-be Curtis Amy was the conductor, and then there was Billy. So these were all my buddies, and they knew I was having problems so they concocted this scheme. I’ll never forget because we were at dinner that night, and they said, “If you hear this note, then this is the note, Merry, then you sing.” But every time they hit the note, I could not hear the second part because the harmonies were so close. So I think we were in Carnegie Hall, it had to be Carnegie Hall because I remember Billy and I going to the top of Carnegie Hall before sound check and nobody could find us and we hear Joe Adams screaming, “Billy Preston and Merry Clayton! Come down here! Where are you? We can’t find you!” We’re laughing; we’re kids, what would we do but laugh? Billy and I looked at each other and I said, “One day we’re going to come back here and it’s going to be you and I, Billy!” He said, “That’s right, baby. We’re going to be here one day, and it won’t be long.” We made this plan.
So we came on stage after the sound check and came on for the show, and Ray starts to sing, “Together Again.” And, of course, everyone in the band starts to look at me and the girls start to look at me and say [whispers], “Merry, you’ve got to hit that note.” And I did not hit that note. Do you know that Ray took his finger and banged the note out on the piano? I was so embarrassed. My feelings were just hurt. I said, “Are you just picking on me? You know I’m a child.” He said, “You’re not a child, you can hit this note, you can hear it, and before I get through with you, you’ll be able to sing it in your sleep.
He rehearsed me for four or five hours. He’d rehearse all the girls. We’d get to a city and he’d have the grand ballroom set up in the hotel and he’d rehearse us. We had perfection on that stage with Ray.
Q: At Sundance, you said there was a saying: “You couldn’t be a Raelette unless you let Ray.”
MC: I get that all the time, and I politely say, “You know, I had no problem ‘letting Ray,’ but the problem was I was too busy ‘letting’ the conductor, who later became my husband for 32 years until he passed away in my arms.”
And that shuts them up real quick. “What?! You were married 32 years?!” Oh, yes, to a brilliant man – a loving, kind, precious, exquisite man. I was very proud to be Mrs. Curtis Amy. My thing in life when I married Curtis Amy was being Mrs. Curtis Amy. Career was fine, but I was enthralled with being Curtis’ wife. That was very important to me back then, and that’s always important to a young lady from New Orleans. That’s our upbringing: to be a wonderful wife and mother first. Everything else will follow. So, I was too busy letting the conductor. I couldn’t let Ray.
Q: You came in as a kid, too. It seems like it was more of a mentor relationship with Ray.
MC: Absolutely. Billy and I were like his kids. We were 17 and 18 years old, and we grew up on the road with Ray. He sang, “Happy Birthday” to me on my 21st birthday at the Shrine Auditorium here in L.A. He was like a father figure to me.
Then again, he knew that my mother would slice him up. He knew better than to do anything that was inappropriate with me.”Merry Clayton
Here I Go Again (ft. Estelle Yarbrough) Please let me know if have this footage — Cyd Let No One Hold You (Margie Hendricks with The Vocals) Please let me know if have this footage — Cyd Leave My Man Alone (Vernita Moss) Please let me know if have this footage — Cyd That Goes To Show You (ft. Susaye Greene) Please let me know if have this footage — Cyd You Must Be Doing Alright (ft. Mable John) Please let me know if have this footage — Cyd You Have A Way With Me (ft. Susaye Greene) Please let me know if have this footage — Cyd After Loving You Please let me know if have this footage — Cyd The Raelettes, A Lover’s Blues Please let me know if have this footage — Cyd