Shining Brother Ray
According to popular myth, the late fifties were "the day the music died." That was when most of the original rock & rollers quit recording: Carl Perkins because of a car accident; Little Richard because of religion; Elvis because of being drafted into the Army; Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry because of sex-related scandals; and Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens because of a fatal plane crash.
That's hardly the whole picture, though. To quote music critic Nelson George: "Many rock & roll historians, with their characteristic bias toward youth rebellion, claim that the last two years of the fifties were a musically fallow period. But that claim only works if you're willing to ignore Ray Charles's brilliant work."
I couldn't agree more. To talk about Ray Charles is to talk about the finest vintage: ripe essence of blues, jazz, country, and (most important) gospel warmed by the Southern sun, fermented in the soul of a brave and gifted man, then bottled by wise vintners like Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, the type of entrepreneurs who once upon a time gave the American record industry a reason to exist.
If you're still reading, you've probably savored this musical vintage. But unless you've read "Brother Ray," the salty-sweet autobiography that Charles did with David Ritz, you may not know the fascinating life story of this musical icon. Now you can learn about it, with a minimum of foolishness and a maximum of feeling.
As a writer about popular music, I've seen a lot of "biopics," and believe me, most are rotgut. Not "Ray." From the production design, which richly re-creates an America that now seems as remote as ancient Rome, to the phenomenal cast, who quite simply act their hearts out, this movie is...what? Rather than reach for a superlative, let me just say that this movie is worthy of its subject.