Ray Charles' impact still being felt


Few people have had the musical impact of Ray Charles, whose image is gracing a new specialty postage stamp that was released Monday by the U.S. Postal Service.

It would have been Charles’ 83rd birthday.

While Charles, a native of Albany, was only a resident here for a brief time, he has had an impact on the community. The Ray Charles Plaza on Front Street is a magnet for folks who visit here, as Charles’ life-sized statue rotates and his numerous songs waft into the air.

As an entertainer, he was one of the best. No one can maintain a cheerfulness 24/7, but Charles gave the impression that he was soaking up everything life had to offer during his time, a period in which he shared some of the most soulful and touching music that has graced the planet.

Indeed, when Charles died in 2004, a talent that will never be duplicated was lost to us.

But what wasn’t lost was his body of work, compiled in a nearly six-decade career that blended jazz, gospel, blues and country into a fusion that was unique and personal. Frank Sinatra’s praise that Charles was “the only true genius in show business” shows how well he and his talent were respected by his peers.

In being commemorated with a stamp, Charles follows two other legends from our area — Dawson native Otis Redding, who also had an unforgettable impact on music, and Cairo native Jackie Robinson, the baseball trailblazer whose contributions to American life can’t be overstated.

The Charles stamp is being sold by the Postal Service on a 16-stamp sheet that gives the appearance of a 45 rpm record peeking from a protective record sleeve whose design is made up of the stamps themselves. The imagery is inspiring in that it makes you want to pull out an old phonograph and hear Charles sing “Georgia.”

Phonographs, of course, have replaced by digital recordings these days and the entertainment industry has moved on in the years since Ray Charles died. But one thing the industry will never do is move past the significance of Albany’s native son.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board