- 1918-09-13 - 2015-04-06
Raymond Charles Offenberg, known professionally as Ray Charles (and who jokingly referred to himself as "the other Ray Charles" for much of his later career), was an American singer, arranger, and conductor. He is most famous for working with Perry Como as the arranger and director for the Ray Charles Singers, Como's backing group for over 30 years. He also served as the musical consultant for the Kennedy Center Honors gala.
Charles was born in Chicago. By the time he was in high school he was already the host of a 15-minute radio show. He attended the Chicago Musical College and continued singing, arranging, and conducting for various choral groups and radio shows. He changed his name to Ray Charles around the same time he was drafted, in 1944. During World War II Charles wrote and arranged music for the women's branch of the Naval Reserve (WAVES) and trained the WAVES "Singing Platoons". After the war he went right back to working on the radio; among other roles, he worked as an arranger-conductor for "The Big Show", one of the last well-known radio variety shows.
The bulk of Charles's career was spent working with Perry Como, beginning in about 1948. He arranged music for and conducted Como's backing group, which would become known as the Ray Charles Singers. The group, which was not a consistent group of vocalists, also recorded a number of albums in the 1960s that arguably founded the "easy listening" genre. They were also responsible for several popular commercial jingles. Charles also arranged music for a variety of television specials during the same period.
Beginning in 1982, Charles was also acted as a musical consultant for the Kennedy Center Honors gala, selecting and arranging the songs for the annual program. He did so every year through 2014. He also served in a similar capacity for over a decade's worth of Independence Day and Memorial Day concerts for PBS. He also wrote the song "Fifty Nifty United States," which many elementary school children continue to learn.
Charles died of cancer at the age of 96.