Official Website: Raymovie.com
Ebert on "Ray"
by David Poland
All the King's Men
The Great Raid
Kingdom of Heaven
Master and Commander
Memoirs of a Geisha
Passion of the Christ
Pirates of the Caribbean
Pride and Prejudice
Walk the Line
"Some False Notes in Ray's Accuracy"
Ray debuts on DVD on February 1, perfectly timed to capitalize
on its six Oscar nominations, most notably for Best Picture and
Best Actor. Jamie Foxx's pitch-perfect portrayal of the legendary
Ray Charles has earned raves. But how much of Ray is real
and how much is, well, legend? A little research reveals that some
of the film's key moments are pure Hollywood fiction.
Q. Did the state of Georgia really ban Ray Charles from ever
performing there after he refused to play at a segregated concert
A. The 1962 ban, and its later reversal by a repentant Georgia state
legislature in 1979, provides a key emotional storyline in Ray.
But there's a problem. It apparently never happened.
The Augusta Chronicle did some digging after the film was
released, and found no evidence that a ban against the singer ever
existed. They combed through the Georgia State Archives. Nothing.
The records of the state legislature? Nothing. The archives of the
newspapers whose front page coverage of the ban are depicted in
the film? Nothing. Even Charles's own memoirs make no mention of
it, and in fact, describe some concerts in the state during the
But the storyline isn't completely fabricated. It is true that
Charles refused to play at a segregated concert In Augusta after
a plea by young civil rights activists (though in the form of a
telegram rather than the street protest shown in the film.) And
the Georgia State legislature did invite him to sing "Georgia
on My Mind" on the chamber floor in 1979 when they proclaimed
it Georgia's official state song. It was a great moment, I'm sure.
But despite what the film's end credits tell us, it wasn't coupled
with an apology for a ban that never existed.
Q. Did Ray's younger brother drown in a washing tub? And did
the experience haunt Ray, eventually leading him into drugs as the
A. Yes. And no. Ray Charles was five when his brother drowned, and
certainly the experience traumatized him. But he insists in his
1978 autobiography (the frank, unsparing, and fascinating Brother
Ray) that he began and continued heroin use for no other reason
than, well, he wanted to.
While the film shows a repentant Charles going through an agonizing
withdrawal, the real Charles was never very apologetic about his
heroin addiction. After sixteen years of shooting up, he did kick
heroin completely in 1964 (though he continued using marijuana through
the end of his life.) But he implies in his autobiography that it
was mostly to avoid going to prison after his arrest for possession.
Q. How did Ray manage his blindness so well?
A. Glaucoma robbed Ray Charles of his sight at seven, and though
the film passes over the following eight years, he spent them cultivating
self-reliance at a school for the blind. He may have learned it
too well. His autobiography gleefully recalls riding bikes blind
in his hometown, and driving motorcycles or the occasional car,
aided by sighted friends helpfully calling out directions.
Q. Did he meet a very young Quincy Jones in Seattle?
A. He did. Both were teenagers at the time, but their friendship
and collaboration would span decades.
Q. Was his big hit "What I'd Say" really created on
the spur of the moment?
A. Yes. The movie captures that electrifying evening on tour, when
the room exploded and shook to his improvised new piece. He continued
to work on it through the rest of the tour before returning to New
York to record it.
Q. Did Ray have an illegitimate child with one of his backup
A. The affair with Margie and her subsequent pregnancy was real,
though by Ray's account he never pushed her for an abortion. He
welcomed all his children, and there were lots. Three with his wife
and nine more with various other women around the country.
While the film does show many scenes of Ray pursuing women, it exercised
restraint, for in actuality there were far more affairs and one-night
stands. Ray rhapsodizes about women-and sex-in his autobiography.
He remembers his first sexual encounter taking place when he was
thirteen, the girl nineteen. He muses at one point that he's rarely
gone a day without sex. Just about every chapter, including the
one describing his wedding to Bea and the birth of their first son,
mentions that he had no capacity-and little desire-to stay faithful
to one woman. "I Got a Woman," might have been more aptly
titled "I Got Lots of Women."
Q. But didn't Bea stay with him regardless?
A. Film biographies usually leave audiences with a sense of uplifting
closure, which means inevitably that some fudging takes place. Unlike
the messy, unresolved lives we all actually lead, lives in the movies
have neat, rounded edges and a clear beginning, middle, and end
(and a cool soundtrack as well.) Since Ray was still alive and performing
when the film was made, the ending has to be somewhat artificial.
I won't reveal how the movie closes, but it does subtly misrepresent
the fate of his marriage. His wife Bea did not stay with him forever.
Fed up eventually with his long absences, his drugs, but most especially
his countless affairs, she finally left the marriage in the mid-1970s.
Q. Where can I read more about Ray Charles?
A. The man's own inimitable voice comes out in Brother Ray.
But if you're shocked by raw language and sex, I'd recommend a nice
biography of Pat Boone instead.
By Cathy Schultz, Ph.D. Daily Southtown, 11/1/04 sec. C,
Ray Charles? Or Jamie Foxx?