Ramblin’ Rhodes: Artist brings Ray Charles back to Georgia

Pianist Kenny Brawner will lead a 12-piece orchestra backed up by three female vocalists portraying The Raelettes in performing a long list of Ray Charles’ greatest hits. SPECIAL

Blues, rock and country singer Ray Charles had a mighty good reason to keep Georgia on his mind as he sang in that classic ballad that became the official state song.


In spite of the 2004 movie Ray depicting Charles as having tough times in the Peach State, the Albany native knew how much Georgians loved him.

Charles, in fact, was one of the first two persons inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1979 along with Atlanta-based song publisher and records producer Bill Lowery.

His long and productive career ended in 2004 when he died at age 73 at his Beverly Hills, Calif., home surrounded by family and friends.

Charles was 14 years old and still attending the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine when Kenny Brawner was born in Augusta. Now, more than a decade after Charles’ death, Brawner is honoring the legend’s legacy with the tribute show Ray Charles On My Mind.

It will be presented for Mike Deas’ Augusta Amusements Inc. series at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, at the Jabez S. Hardin Center located in the Evans Library. Tickets are $45. Call 706) 726-0366 or order online at augustaamusements.com.

Pianist Brawner leads a 12-piece orchestra backed up by three female vocalists portraying The Raelettes in performing a long list of Charles’ greatest hits.

Popular local musician Tim Sanders, also a native of Augusta, has been working with Brawner on developing the show.

“Kenny and his brother, Everett, who plays bass guitar in the show, and I actually grew up across the street from each other,” Sanders said. “We have been friends for 60-plus years. It is truly a joy to be playing the music we started out trying to copy in the early stages of our musical development.

“We especially have been working on doing the show south of the Mason-Dixon Line since this is where Ray was from,” noted Sanders who plays alto saxophone and is known for his leadership of the Augusta band PlayBack.

Brawner told writer Bill Nutt for the Daily Record in Morris County, N.J., not to consider him as a Ray Charles impersonator.

“When I hear the word ‘impersonator,’ I think of those guys in the one-piece suits who do Elvis,” Brawner remarked. “I look at what I do as a combination theater piece and concert. I’m an actor, and I’m playing Ray Charles on stage.”

Charles himself performed in Augusta several times beginning on Oct. 15, 1957, with what was described in The Augusta Chronicle as a “Fantabulous Rock &Roll Show” at Bell Auditorium.

Besides Charles and his orchestra, the show featured a who’s who of rhythm and blues pioneers including Mickey &Sylvia, The Moonglows, The Del Vikings, Larry Williams &His Orchestra, Big Joe Turner, The Velours, Bo Diddley &His Trio, Roy Brown, Tiny Topsy, Vicky Nelson, Nappy Brown and Annie Laurie.

Advance tickets were $1.50 with at the door tickets costing $2.

An advertisement in The Chronicle for the show referred to a separate 1,000-seat auditorium that existed on the south side of Bell Auditorium using the same stage as the main hall. When Bell Auditorium was renovated in the late 1980s, the Music Hall was torn down to make room for a loading dock.

Charles again performed in Bell Auditorium with his orchestra and The Raelettes on Oct. 23, 1963.

Ten years later he and his orchestra and backup vocalists spent a week entertaining Augusta-area music fans in James Brown’s Third World nightclub then located on Laney-Walker Boulevard where C.A. Reid Sr. Memorial Funeral Home now exists.

Charles’ last Augusta appearance was on Aug. 19, 1987, in the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center (now James Brown Arena) with Tony Williams and The Original Platters.

Through the talents of another Georgian, Brawner, area R&B fans again can enjoy the soulful sounds of the one and only Ray Charles.

BLUEGRASS STAR SIERRA HULL: If you can’t get to the Charles’ tribute show, check out Grammy-nominated bluegrass star Sierra Hull performing the same night.

Her show starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, at the Imperial Theatre for the Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser True Music Southern Soul &Song Series.

Tickets are $28, $23 and $15 available at the Imperial Theatre box office, 745 Broad St., by calling (706) 722-8341 or online at imperialtheatre.com.

WAYNE TAYLOR &FRIENDS IN LEESVILLE, S.C.: North Carolina native Wayne Taylor, formerly singer and guitarist with the U.S. Navy band Country Current for 21 years, will perform with guest artists on Saturday, Jan. 21, for the Haynes Bluegrass Series at Haynes Auditorium, 423 College St., in Leesville, S.C.

The house band Flatbed Express will open the evening at 7 p.m. followed by Taylor at 8 p.m. There will be an open jam session from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in the lobby.

Admission is $15. Call Lewis Rogers at (803) 582-8479 or email wlrogers62@gmail.com.

Taylor’s time with Country Current soliciting Navy recruits took him to China, Sweden, Canada and to performing for four U.S. presidents and appearing on the TV shows The Today Show, Nashville Now and Good Morning, America, as well as Grand Ole Opry.

His guests for the Leesville show will be Warren Yates on bass, Donnie Little on banjo and David Wiseman on mandolin.

Future shows in the series are Darrin &Brooke Aldridge with Rabon Creek opening at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, and the Trinity River Band with New Dixie Storm opening at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 18. Visit haynesbluegrass.com.