Ray Charles - piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, vocals; Unnamed orchestra; The Raelettes - Vernita Moss, Susaye Green, Mable John, Dorothy Berry and Estella Yarbrough
A favorite of George Wein's, Ray Charles had previously made memorable appearances at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival (which was released as a live album by Atlantic Records) and at the 1960 bash in Rhode Island (available at Wolfgang's). By 1973, Charles was universally acknowledged as a soul music icon and a superstar in the entertainment industry. Flexible enough to delve in to the worlds of jazz and country music as well as his own brand of gospel-tinged soul, Charles also dabbled in pop music during this time, putting his stamp on familiar tunes of the day by the Beatles and Melanie as well as old chestnuts by Hoagy Carmichael, Don Gibson, and Sam Cooke.
Backed by his working ensemble and the five Raelettes, Charles opened his Nassau Coliseum set with a rousing rendition of Louis Jordan's earthy anthem "Let the Good Times Roll" ("Hey everybody, let's have some fun / You only live but once and when you're done / So let the good times roll"). He settles into a mellow mood on a churchy rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind," a 1930 chestnut that Charles had recorded on his 1960 album The Genius Hits the Road. Staying in emotive ballad mode, he next turns in a powerful rendition of the Beatles' "Long and Winding Road" (which appeared on his 1971 album Volcanic Action of My Soul) that is imbued with his trademark gospel-holler intensity. Charles puts a gospel flavored, tambourine shaking spin on Melanie's engaging ditty "Look What They've Done To My Song," which features his backing vocalists, the Raelettes. The countrified "Don't Change on Me" is from Ray's 1970 album Love Country Style. After delivering his slow, sanctified version of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" (from 1962's groundbreaking Modern Sounds in Coiuntry and Western Music), Charles turns in a dramatic reading of the Beatles "Eleanor Rigby." He turns in a moving version "I Can Make it Thru the Day (But Oh those Lonely Nights)," which appeared on 1972's Through the Eyes of Love and closes out his '73 Newport set with a rousing "Shake" (not to be confused with Ray's "Shake a Tail Feather"), a Sam Cooke tune from 1964 which was memorably covered in 1965 by Otis Redding.
Following this triumphant appearance, Charles continued to make a smooth transition to pop success through the '70s and '80s with appearances on television (Saturday Night Live, The Cosby Show, Sesame Street) and in the popular 1980 film The Blues Brothers). Charles remained a headliner at major music festivals around the world through the '80s and '90s and continued performing into the new millennium. In 2003, he recorded an album of duets featuring B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, and James Taylor. His touring schedule was seriously curtailed after hip replacement surgery later that year. He died on June 10, 2004, of liver cancer at his home in Beverly Hills, California. His final album, Genius Loves Company, released two months after his death, consists of duets with various admirers and contemporaries including B.B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, and Johnny Mathis. The album won eight Grammy Awards, including five for Ray Charles for Best Pop Vocal Album, Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones, and Best Gospel Performance for "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight. He also received nominations for his duets with Elton John and B.B. King. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Charles number 10 on their list of "The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time" and voted him number two on their November 2008 list of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time." (Milkowski)