Written by
Bob Stumpel

May 15

When Ray Charles Met Ray Charles (1961)

'61 TV ComoWith Mitchell Ayres OrchestraWith Ray Charles ChorusWith Ray Charles Offenberg

From The Milwaukee
Sentinel, Feb. 22, 1961.
Video still from the show.

 …and when The Raelettes met The Ray Charles Chorus.

It all happened at The Perry Como Kraft Music Hall Show, telecast from the NBC Studios (in color; prod. no. 61-380) in Brooklyn, N.Y., on February 22, 1961. The program was directed by Dwight Hemion. The other guest stars were Jimmy Durante, Anne Bancroft, and Renée Taylor. The footage is licensed by Research Video Inc. I’ve seen a B/W copy, but the TV page of a contemporary newspaper (see clipping, right) announced the show as a color cast.

1961 was no doubt the most hectic year in The Genius’ career. There were five album releases (that all charted), one  single (Hit The Road Jack) that reached the #1 position both on the R&B and Pop charts, an instrumental (One Mint Julep) that scored #1 R&B and #8 Pop, and several more singles that charted well. In the spring he “augmented” his small big band to a real BIG band, flew his small band to France for his European debut and a triumph in Antibes, later in the year returned to France with his big band for another triumph in Paris, and made his debut in a feature movie (Swingin’ Along).
But, on the downside, early in the year several concerts ended in riots, at other gigs (including the infamous one in Augusta) he refused to perform for a segregated audience, and was sued for it, and everybody in show business was gossiping about his drug abuse. Worse, he was arrested twice in the course of the year.
In the light of all his success, though, it was only logical that NBC invited him to perform at their biggest variety show. In the light of all controversial stories surrounding Ray, it must also have been an act of courage.

It was Charles’ debut on national network TV. He performed Georgia On My Mind (with David Newman on flute) and What’d I Say (with Ray’s septet, The Raelettes, and the Ray Charles Chorus).

Ray was accompanied by: Phil Guilbeau, John Hunt – trumpets; Hank Crawford – alto saxophone, David Newman – tenor saxophone, flute; Leroy Cooper – baritone saxophone, Edgar Willis – bass; Bruno Carr – drums. The Raelettes were: Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Darlene McCrea, and Mae Saunders. With the Ray Charles Chorus and the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra.

Ray Charles meets Ray Charles

Credits Muppets’ 30th Anniversary.

Watching Brother Ray’s contribution to this Perry Como Show for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised by a brief intermission between the two tunes, where choral director, composer and arranger Ray Charles Offenberg – a long time contributor to Como’s shows -introduced himself to Ray Charles Robinson, and played out that Como had asked him to submit a request forWhat’d I Say:

Ray Charles Singers & Raelettes

The confusion about the two Ray Charles’es already started in the 1950s, and for Offenberg it even lasts till today. But the subjects of the confusion never worried about it. Offenberg soon submitted to being called The Other Ray Charles, and even insisted that he was credited with that ‘name’ for his contributions to the Muppets’ A Celebration Of 30 Years Show (1986).
The performance of What’d I Say got some extra (and odd looking) production value when, at the end, the Ray Charles Chorus stepped in to support The Raelettes (who, though very rarely, by some media were also called The Ray Charles Singers) in the call-and-response part of the tune.

I didn’t see the remainder of the show, but found one of the cross talks between Como, Durante and Bancroft quoted like this:
– “Ray Charles, he’s really something,” said Como.
– “A real genius,” said Bancroft.
– “He studied with me for years,” wisecracked Durante.

A tribute video to the other Ray Charles:


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