Monday Notes

Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles and soul music

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[Monday Notes No.48] Georgia on My Mind was composed by the great songwriter Hoagy Carmichael in 1930, but Ray Charles’ interpretation in 1960 surpassed the original in popularity, the pianist-singer turning it into one of his biggest hits.

Ray Charles was a great pioneer of soul music, and in this arrangement one can appreciate the contrast between the rough, dark colour of his voice and the open, clear, transparent orchestral sound created by the strings and choirs.

The strings are given the main task of playing the harmony of the piece, as the piano does not play the accompaniment but acts as a second voice and comments on the sung theme with delightful blues phrases.

The choir replies to the soloist, particularly on the phrase “Georgia on my mind” (0’39” and again 2’10”) or performs held notes intertwined with the pattern of the strings. Orchestra and choir create a smooth, consonant background that enhances the bluesy phrasing of the voice and piano. Listen, for example, to the short falsetto passage (2’45”) or the hoarse and harsh vibrato (3’10”).

The pianist and singer is thus at odds with the rest of the orchestra, this friction highlighting and enhancing everything he plays and sings. At the end of the piece the blues comes out victorious from this clash, the piece concluding with a classic turnaround (3’25”) and a dissonant final chord 7#9.

Ray Charles Georgia On My Mind, finale
Ray Charles Georgia On My Mind, ending

In his long career Ray Charles has been a television anchor, a businessman and a showman, he has performed an impressive number of duets, not all of them successful. Despite this, he has always remained a generous and sincere musician, and no one has ever been able to surpass his interpretation of Georgia On My Mind.

Until next Monday!

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