Thursday, June 9, 2011


We Remember: June 8th

1940:     OKW issues Fuehrer Directive #14.
     (i) The enemy is offering stiff resistance on the Somme front. Accordingly the main attack is to begin on 9th June near Rheims as laid out in Directive #13, however stronger forces will be employed towards the lower Seine and Paris than had been originally contemplated. XIV Corps will reinforce the left flank of 4th Army and the 9th Army will thrust towards the Marne with XVI Corps.
     (ii) The Luftwaffe will continue operations as laid out in Directive #13, in addition it will keep the coast on the right flank of Army Group B under observation and strong fighter cover, and assist Army Group A at the focal point of the attack. (Marc Roberts)

German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau operate off the Norwegian coast against the British evacuation convoys. The carrier HMS Glorious and destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent are sunk. This is inspite of a gallant defense by the destroyers.

RAF 4 Group bombs - arms dumps and communications in France - marshalling yards in Germany. 10 Sqn. Ten a/c to Rheydt, Wedan and Essen marshalling yards. One crashed on take-off (two injured), one returned early, eight bombed. 51 Sqn. Nine a/c to arms dumps in France. All bombed. 58 Sqn. Six a/c to road/rail comms Avesnes and Aulnoye. All bombed. 77 Sqn. Nine a/c to road/rail comms Hirson and Charleville. All bombed. 102 Sqn. Nine a/c to road/rail comms Sedan. One returned early, eight bombed, one damaged by Flak. (Andy Etherington)

French 10 Army is now cut in two. The left part withdraws towards Le Havre and the right to Pontoise, southwards. This means that the whole of the Seine, between Vernon and its mouth is uncovered. Weygand now orders General Duffour, commanding Third Region at Rouen, to organise some sort of local defence. At the same time he turns the Military Government of Paris into the "Army of Paris" which under General Hering, is to hold the Seine from Vernon to Pontoise, and the Oise as far as Boran. The Germans push the French 7 Army south of Amiens back as far as Saint- Just-en -Chaussee. The 7th Army is then ordered to cover the eastern approaches to Paris as far as the river Ourcq. (Andy Etherington)

Tromso: King Haakon and his government leave Norway with the last of the Allied troops; 24,500 troops have been evacuated from Harstad since 4 June. (Andy Etherington)

At 0045, with the Royal Navy carriers in position 70.05 N, 15.52 E, the RAF fighters began taking off Bardufoss landing ground:  Ten Gladiator IIs of 263 Squadron and seven Hurricane Is of 46 Squadron.
     At 0100, Ark launched a relief fighter patrol for Narvik, two 803 Squadron Skuas (OC-Lieutenant-Commander J. Casson, RN).  Fifteen minutes later, the RAF fighters were sighted.  With little ado, Glorious again worked up to full speed and the 17 RAF fighters landed aboard as if the entire effort was simply routine.  Following behind came the Swordfish guides and a 701 Squadron Walrus which landed aboard with several important communications.  Its mission accomplished, the Walrus departed for Ark Royal at 0207, the last aircraft to takeoff the ill-fated Glorious.
     At 0130, two further two-plane patrols from 803 for departed for Risoy and Bardufoss (Lieutenant C. H. Filmer, RN and Sub-Lieutenant J. R. Callander, RN) as well as a relief A.D.A. patrol.  At 0300 two three-plane patrols were sent over the transports at Reisen and Risoy (803, Lieutenant C. W. Peever, RN, and 800, Lieutenant G. R. Callingham, RN).  These were followed at 0515 by another six 800 Squadron Skuas (Lieutenants G. E. D. Finch-Noyes, RN and K. V. V. Spurway, RN) and another A.D.A. patrol.  This later patrol reported the embarkation at Reisen complete.
     Meanwhile, at 0253, having requested and received permission for his ship to return forthwith to Scapa Flow Òfor the purpose of making preparations for impending courts martialÓ, Captain Guy DÕOyly-Hughes, DSO+bar, DSC, RN ordered Glorious and her two attendant destroyers, HMS Acasta (Commander Charles Eric Glasfurd, RN) and HMS Ardent (Lieutenant-Commander John Frederick Barker, DSC, RN) to set a course westward towards home.
     Meanwhile, back on Ark, the next fighter patrol (three Skuas, Lieutenant D. C. E. F. Gibson, RN, 803) left for Risoy at 0805.  This was the first patrol to actually sight an enemy aircraft, chasing off a He-111 that escaped into the low clouds.  This was followed by an A.D.A. patrol at 0815.  At 1000, in response to the sighting of a snooper from the bridge, a pair of 803 Squadron Skuas was led aloft by Lieutenant C. H. Filmer, RN, but they were unable to bring the enemy to action.
     Word having been received that the embarkation was complete, Ark now shifted her air cover to the retiring transports.  Three-plane fighter patrols were sent aloft at 1050, 1330, 1515, 1715, and 1915.  By that point, Ark Royal had closed with the convoy such that her A.D.A. patrols could cover both forces.  The dayÕs flying ended at 2205 with a two Swordfish A.D.A. patrol.
          Operation ÒJunoÓ:
     While all this was going on, as the Admiralty had noted earlier, the German Navy was not idle.  At 0800 4 June, Admiral Wilhelm Marschall, flying his flag on schlachtschiff Gneisenau (Kapitan zur See Harald Netzbandt), leading schlachtschiff Scharnhorst (Kapitan zur See Caesar Hoffmann) and schwere kreuzer Admiral Hipper (Kapitan zur See Hellmuth Heye) and escorted by the only four operational destroyers in the fleet, Hans Lody (KorvettenkapitŠn Huberts Freiherr von Wangenheim), Karl Galster (KorvettenkapitŠn Theodor Freiherr von Bechtolsheim), Erich Steinbrinck (KorvettenkapitŠn Rolf Johannesson), and Hermann Schoemann (KorvettenkapitŠn Theodor Detmers, later captain of the raider Kormoran) as well as the two torpedo boats Falke (KapitŠnleutnant Hansen-Nootbaar) and Jaguar (KapitŠnleutnant Hartenstein), had departed Kiel for Operation ÒJunoÓ a foray into the waters off Northern Norway.
     On the 5th, the two short legged torpedo boats returned to Wilhelmshaven while the rest continued North, Hipper and the destroyers refueling off the Loftens on the 6th.  The initial plan had been to attack targets of opportunity in and around Narvik.  However, the situation remained unclear, and finally, aware of several Allied convoys at sea travelling between Norway and England, Marschall opted to go for them.
     At 0555 on the 7th, Hipper and Gneisenau sighted the British tanker Oilpioneer (5,666 BRT) escorted by the anti-submarine trawler HMS Jupiter.  The former was gunned under by GneisenauÕs secondary battery, the later by Hipper, who managed to pick up 29 survivors from both ships.  Several hours later, after being spotted by GneisenauÕs plane the force found (and let pass) the hospital ship Atlantis, and then sank the trooper (former liner) Orama (19,840 BRT) travelling empty to England.  The cruiser and destroyers, now low on fuel, were detached to Trondheim to refuel while Marschall, with the two battleships, stayed at sea looking for more targets.
          The Loss of HMS Glorious:
     Shortly after 1600 8 June, while proceeding SW on a mean course of 250 degrees, HMS Glorious, who was neither operating aircraft nor manning her crowÕs nest, sighted two large enemy warships to the west, between her and England and, more importantly, to windward.  The two German battleships, having detected the British force some minutes earlier on radar, were steaming at high speed.  Sighting their prey at 1610, the Germans turned to close.  Scharnhorst, in the lead, did not open fire until 1632, and did not hit until its fourth salvo.  None the less, and despite supposedly having one of her six Swordfish on ten minutes readiness and two more twenty minutes readiness, Glorious was unable to get any of her aircraft in the air before 1638 when she suffered the first of the many heavy shell hits that were to spell her doom.
     Immediately on sighting the foe, the closer of her two escorting destroyers, HMS Ardent, gallantly turned to engage while the rearward escort, HMS Acasta laid smoke to cover her charge.  Endeavoring to close to torpedo range, Ardent was pummeled by the 5.9Ó secondary batteries of the German battleships, though she managed to get off four torpedoes before she was stopped in sinking condition, finally capsizing at 1728.  Meanwhile, with the wind making the maintenance of a smoke screen impossible and Glorious being hit repeatedly, plucky Acasta made her dash for glory.  Sailing into the proverbial Òvalley of deathÓ, she managed to get off her torpedoes at long range before, around 1820, she slowly rolled over and sank.  Kapitan Hoffmann, aware that the torpedoes had been fired at his ship, turned to comb them, but then turned back into their path too soon and, at 1738, one torpedo fired struck her starboard side abreast C turret, killing 48, letting in 2,500 tons of water,
  fracturing her outer shaft, and slowing her to 20 knots.
     AcastaÕs success, however, was small compensation for the disaster that befell the British force.  With both destroyers sinking, Glorious struggled on, but she was clearly doomed, finally sliding beneath the waves at 1816.  Circumstances being what they were (no escorts available), and after several submarine sightings had been reported, the German force set off towards Trondheim at 20 knots without attempting to pick up survivors.  This was to prove tragic for the crews of the three vessels, as even in June the waters of the Arctic are extremely cold.  Although over 1,000 survivors entered the water, only 40 were destined to survive the ordeal.
     The Norwegian motor vessel Borgund (350 BRT) came across the scene on the evening of 10 June and rescued 35, bringing them to the Faeroes.  The Norwegian Svalbard II, having picked up four others, was spotted by German aircraft and forced to return to Norway with them.  Finally, a German reconnaissance aircraft landed in the water and gathered in one more (a second died).  Of the forty survivors, 38 were from Glorious (two FAA officers, two FAA ratings, two RAF officer pilots, one RAF non-commissioned officer, and 31 shipÕs personnel), one from Acasta, and one from Ardent, both ratings.
     The list of dead numbered an appalling 1,519.  From Glorious, 75 officers and 937 ratings of the Royal Navy, 99 Royal Marines, 31 Maltese, 6 NAAFI staff, 41 RAF ratings, and 18 RAF pilots had been lost, a total of 1,207.  Acasta lost 8 officers, 151 ratings of the Royal Navy and one NAAFI staff, a total of 160, while Ardent lost 10 officers, 141 ratings of the Royal Navy and 1 NAAFI staff member a total of 152.
     Amongst these totals, the FAA paid heavily:
     All five members of the Air Staff were killed.  802 Squadron lost all eight officer pilots, the sole enlisted pilot, Petty Officer Richard Thomas Leggott, RN surviving, while 823 Squadron lost nine of eleven officer pilots and observers as well as eight of nine enlisted air gunners.  The three survivors were Sub-Lieutenant(A) Ian Murray MacLachlin, RN (P), Midshipman(A) Eric Baldwin, RN (O), and Naval Airmen Vernon Robert McBride, RN (AG).
     Likewise, the gallant RAF pilots that had made history earlier that day paid heavily.
     46 Squadron lost eight of ten of the pilots on Glorious:  Flight Lieutenant Charles Robert David Stewart; Flying Officers Robert Melland John Cowles; Philip John Frost; Herbert Harold Knight; and Michael Courtney Franklin Mee; Pilot Officer Lancelot Gordon Bew Bunker; Flight Sergeant Edward Shackley; and Sergeant Bernard Lester Taylor.  The two survivors were the CO, Squadron Leader Kenneth B. B. Cross (later KCB, CBE, DSO, and DFC) and Flight Lieutenant Patric Geraint Jameson, (later CB, DSO, DFC+bar).
     All ten pilots of 263 Squadron on Glorious were lost:  Squadron Leader John William Donaldson DFC, DSO; Flight Lieutenant Alvin Thomas Williams DFC; Flying Officers Herman Francis Grant Ede; Harold Edward Vickery; and Phillip Hannah Purdy, DFC, MiD; and Pilot Officers Michael Alexander Craig-Adams; Louis Reginald Jacobsen DFC; Michael Amor Bentley; and Sidney Robert McNamara, DFC. (Mark Horan)

The motion picture "Brother Orchid" is released in the U.S. This crime drama, directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring Edward G. Robinson, Ann Sothern, Humphrey Bogart, Ralph Bellamy, Donald Crisp and Allen Jenkins, has gang boss Robinson returning from Europe, where he tried to acquire "class," to find his gang has been taken over by Bogart. He forms another gang and is wounded in a gunfight and takes refuge in a monastery where he plots his next move. (Jack McKillop)

1941:     British and Free French forces invade Syria under the command of General Wilson.  The Vichy French forces are commanded by General Dantz.

There were 45,000 Vichy French troops occupying Syria and Lebanon. Allied forces totaled 34,000 troops - 5,000 Free French; 9,000 British; 18,000 Australian, 2,000 Indian troops. (Sidney Allinson)

Captain Moshe Dayan, leading a section of the Allied attack on Syria, receives an eye injury when a stray bullet hits his binoculars. As a Palestinian he served in the British army with the Palestine Regiment. (Sidney Allinson & Andy Etherington)

A report from Melbourne outlines the problems the Australian's are having with her soldiers in the Middle East. While the countries of Europe are rationing their food supplies increasingly, Australia has too much. Food ships can make three or four trips between Europe and the United States or Canada to every one to Australia, whose surpluses thus are largely unexportable. She must eat the surpluses herself, store them, or destroy them ...
   What is going to happen to the farmers in this period of wasted and partially wasted surpluses is another problem of Australia's government. It is part of the larger problem of Australia's wartime economic readjustment, including the matter of man power allotable to different industries. (Andy Etherington)

US Senator Byrd states that there are 67 strikes in the defense industries and threats of 19 more. (Andy Etherington)

Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Chico Marx stage the first Hollywood "camp show" at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, California. (Jack McKillop)

1942:       The German Operation Drumbeat continues as U-302 torpedoes and sinks an armed merchant tanker approximately 35 miles (56 km) northeast of Cape Blanco, Venezuela. (Jack McKillop)

The crew of a USN PBY-5A Catalina of Patrol Squadron Forty One (VP-41) based at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska Island, Aleutian Islands, spots four transports and two destroyers in Kiska Harbor; flying to Attu Island, they spot the Japanese forces. This is the first indication that the Japanese have occupied these two islands. (Jack McKillop)
Japanese submarines I-21 and I-24 shell the Australian cities of Sydney and Newcastle.

The Soviet Ambassador to the U.S., Maxim M. Litvinov, informs Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's assistant, that the Soviet Government has agreed to a Lend-Lease air corridor being established between the Territory of Alaska and Siberia. (Jack McKillop)

The Royal Canadian Air Force's No. 111 (Fighter) Squadron, equipped with Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. Is, arrives at Elmendorf Field, Anchorage, Territory of Alaska, as part of the RCAF reinforcements to the USAAF. (Jack McKillop)

The European Theater of Operations US Army (ETOUSA) is established by presidential directive. Major General James E. Chaney is designated commander of all US forces in ETOUSA. (Jack McKillop)

1943:     The Japanese Battleship Mutsu is sunk, by an internal explosion, in Hiroshima Bay.

Two Japanese submarines arrive at Kiska Island in the Aleutian Islands with supplies and evacuate personnel as IJA troops are ordered to abandon the island.
    HIJMS I-7 lands 19 tons of weapons and ammunition and 15 tons of food and evacuates 42 sailors, 18 soldiers and 41 Japanese civilians.
    HIJMS I-34 lands nine tons of weapons and ammunition and five tons of food and evacuates nine sailors and 71 civilians. (Jack McKillop)

Northwest African Strategic Air Force (NASAF) Wellingtons pound the town and docks on Pantelleria Island in the Mediterranean during the night of 7/8 June. The air offensive against the island increases during the following day as fighters, light, medium and heavy bombers of the NASAF, Northwest Tactical Air Force (NATAF) and the USAAF's Ninth Air Force continue to bomb throughout the day. Naval forces bombard the harbor and shore batteries. Surrender requests, dropped by airplane, bring no response. (Jack McKillop)
 Los Angeles declared off limits by military authorities in order to bring an end to the Zoot Suit riots.

1944:     The Allied 2nd wave is now ashore at Normandy.

Whilst acting as HQ ship for the assault forces off Juno beach, frigate HMS Lawford is attacked and sunk by German aircraft off Courcelles. Location Seine Bay, Juno Beach area. There are 24 casualties. (Alex Gordon)

Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, Commanding General, U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF), places oil as the first priority target for the USAAF's Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces as a result of the destructive effect achieved by several missions against oil centers in May 1944. (Jack McKillop)

The USAAF's Eighth Air Force in England flies Mission 400: 1,178 bombers and 1,353 fighter sorties are flown on communications in France to isolate German forward elements, and airfields are bombed to prevent Luftwaffe support. Cloud conditions prevent 400+ bombers from executing attacks.
    1. 640 B-17 Flying Fortresses are dispatched to La Frilliere (66 bomb), Orleans (36 bomb), Rennes Airfield (30 bomb), Orleans/Les Aubrais marshalling yard (60 bomb), Nantes (25 bomb), La Huchetiere (31 bomb), Tours/ La Riche (61 bomb) and Cinq Mars bridge (57 bomb); 18 hit Bruz, two hit Rennes and 13 hit targets of opportunity; one1 B-17 is lost.
    Personal Memory: On this day in 1944 we were assigned a target in Orleans, France where we were to drop our 1000 pound bombs on a train track with rolling stock, hoping to drop a railroad bridge into the rubble. Our assembly had to be modified because of two cloud layers and we finally formed up between these layers. The 303rd Bomb Group furnished 36 B-17s for this mission, comprising three groups of twelve. All three groups took off between 0431 and 0522 and were back on the base at Molesworth before noon. Our part of the mission was largely wasted because of a problem with the Norden bomb sight in the lead plane. Our bomb run was visual but the lead bombardier was having trouble cranking the proper drift corrections. He decided to turn the bomb run over to the deputy lead but was too late as the Norden sight released his bombs and of course all twelve planes dropped in unison. Our bombs struck the ground even with the target but too far to the left by at least five hund
red feet, destroying some large, unknown buildings. Hogan was the hero of the day. our 359th squadron that led the high group laid a perfect pattern on the rail yard and the bridge. Hogan saved the mission when the low group did just as badly as we did. Some of the bombers were still jockeying into position when the bombs were away and in banking the plane it tossed the bombs to one side resulting in a poor pattern. Some days it doesn't pay to get up.  But at least it was a milk run. Score so far: Milk Runs 9, Others 4.(Dick Johnson)
    2. 538 B-24 Liberators are dispatched to Pontaubault (67 bomb), Angers/ St Laud (24 bomb), Angers (19 bomb), Le Mans/Arnage Airfield (14 bomb), Pontaubault (13 bomb), Nantes (42 bomb) and Cinq Mars bridge (55 bomb ); five hit Dinon, one hits Precey, one hits Cinq Mars bridge, 30 hit Grandville Harbor, 19 hit a bridge at Rennes, nine hit Precey and 26 hit targets of opportunity; an attack on the Melun bridge by an Azon unit is foiled by clouds; two B-24s are lost.
    Escort for the bombers is provided by 116 P-51 Mustangs; they claim 3-0-1 Luftwaffe aircraft; two P-51s are lost.
Other fighter-bomber missions are:
    1. 381 P-38 Lightnings, 24 P-47 Thunderbolts and 89 P-51s fly sweeps and patrols along the Normandy beachhead and the Channel area; P-47s claim
1-0-0 Luftwaffe aircraft; three P-51s are lost.
    2. 333 P-47s and 526 P-51s fly fighter-bomber missions against communications in northwestern France; they claim 27-2-4 Luftwaffe aircraft in the air and 21-0-11 on the ground; six P-47s and eleven P-51s are lost. Overall, the fighters fly 1,405 sorties and attack nearly 75 targets during the day. (Jack McKillop)

The USAAF's Ninth Air Force in England dispatches around 400 B-26 Marauders to attack rail and road bridges and junctions, rail sidings, marshalling yards, town areas, fuel storage tanks, ammunition dumps, troop concentration and strong points in the Calais, France area. Around 1,300 fighter sorties provide support to B-26s and high cover over the assault area, and bomb and strafe bridges, marshalling yards, gun batteries, rail facilities, vehicles, towns, and troop concentrations. (Jack McKillop)

The USAAF's Fifteenth Air Force in Italy dispatches 52 B-17s, with P-47 escort, to bomb the navy yard and drydocks at Pola, Yugoslavia. (Jack McKillop)

The motion picture "The Mask of Dimitrious" is released in the U.S. This mystery based on Eric Ambler's novel "A Coffin for Dimitrious," is directed by Jean Negulesco and stars Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson and George Tobias. The plot involves a mystery writer (Lorre) tracing the life of a notorious criminal (Scott). (Jack McKillop)
The SS murders Canadian POWs for the second day in a row in Normandy, 
including six Winnipeg Rifles, and a Red Cross stretcher-bearer, who are 
ordered into a wood and shot in the temple; 13 more Canadians are executed 
within 100 yards of the Command post; the bodies of 7 more are found 
near-by, all shot in the head with small arms; and 40 Winnipegs and Cameron 
Highlanders are marched into a field, ordered to sit together with the 
wounded at their center, and machine gunned; 5 escape.

1945:     British submarine Trenchant torpedos the Japanese cruiser Ashigara in the Java Sea.  She was evacuating soldiers from Batavia to Japan.

Carrier-based aircraft of the USN's Task Groups 38.1 and 38.4 attack the Kanoya Airdrome complex on Kyushu Island, Japan attempting to hinder kamikaze missions. (Jack McKillop)

1946  Field Marshal Lord Montgomery leads a grand victory parade for World 
War Two through London.

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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