Heavenly Sight

The Ray Charles Symposium

Panels and Workshops

Session 1a: Heavenly Sight

Friday, September 21
3:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.

Session Description: Ray Charles, by most reports, was not a religious man, and spent of hus adult life in church, but his music was, from the beginning to the end of his performing career, suffused in the traditions of the African-American Christian church.

And it wasn't just the music, but the performance tradition of charismatic blind black gospel lead singers which helped to shape and create the opportunity for Charles's brilliant career.

The radio documentary Heavenly Sight, broadcast over the past year on many NPR stations, and still in circulation via broadcast and on the internet at HeavenlySight.org, was reported, written, and narrated by Dave Marash. It looks at the sources as well as the stars of this gospel tradition, which was enriched by performers like Arizona Dranes, Blind Willie Johnson, the Rev. Gary Davis, and groups like the Blind Boys of Alabama (and their friendly rivals, the Blind Boys of Mississippi), some of whom were certainly listened to and absorbed by the young Ray Charles.

Marash will talk about the forces that directed young African blind performers from the rural South towards gospel music, and a long-standing expectaion that prepared audiences to love them.

Marash will also show a 17-minute obituary done for ABC News Nightline, where he was for 16 years a correspondent, on Charles's death. Included is rare material of Charles in a teaching role, counseling a group of aspiring musicians from Los Angeles high schools, as they record a cover of one of Charles's masterpieces, the country and western song, "Busted," as well a cogent comments from the great jazz pianist Marcus Roberts, a graduate of the same Florida state school of blind African-Americans that Charles attended.


Moderator: David Marash