The Real Thing

By Chad Galts / July / August 1998
November 30th, 2007
The Saturday evening Pops Concert crowd on Commencement weekend is normally a muted contrast to the churning mass of people on the main Green for Friday night's Campus Dance. This year, however, the Pops was a little different: Ray Charles was in town. "Last year we had Marvin Hamlisch," says Susan Weatherhead '42 of the Pembroke Club of Providence, which cosponsors the event with the Brown Club of Rhode Island. "He's pretty well known, but he's definitely not in a league with Ray Charles."

Sporting his trademark shades, a brilliant yellow, ruffled tuxedo shirt, and a dark jacket decorated with bright paisleys, the legendary singer and piano player delivered the distinctive blend of gospel, country, soul, and R&B that has made him into a household name. Charles, who is sixty-seven, began his career in the 1940s, but twelve Grammys later he can still belt out "Georgia," "Baby, Please Don't Go," "Busted," and a touching, delicate version of "America the Beautiful" as though in search of his first recording contract.

Almost 6,000 tickets were sold for this year's concert, about 2,000 more than usual, Weatherhead reports. Extra tables were added in front of Sayles Hall and on either side of the Green to accommodate the overflow, and a Jumbotron screen was fired up for the benefit of concertgoers with distant seats.

The tables may have been packed a little tight, and the drink service may have been a bit slow, but as soon as the lights caught the ruffles on Charles's shirt no one noticed anything but the music. By the opening chords of his third song, he had the crowd on its feet, dancing in the aisles and in the scant spaces between the tables.

"Guys from my band are always saying, `People ask me, "What's Ray really like?"'" Charles said to the crowd near the end of his one-hour set. "I came up with a little tune so you can all know what I'm really like." After cueing up his band with an almost imperceptible nod, Charles sang: "They say I'm living too fast but I feel fine, I just keep dreaming along in three-four time."

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Related Issue
July / August 1998