Monday, November 14, 2011


Chalky White (a character in "Boardwalk Empire") is loosely based on real-life Albert Chalky Wright who was born in Mexico on February 10, 1912.  He became an American featherweight boxer, and world champion, who fought between 1928 and 1948. 

Ring Magazine listed Chalky Wright as one of the top 100 greatest punchers of all time.  Wright's career included 158 wins (77 by knock out) and 43 losses.  He also fought to 17 draws.
Mae West, the actress, helped Chalky Wright achieve his potential.  For awhile, he served as West's chauffeur, but she encouraged him to return to the boxing ring.
By 1941, Chalky had achieved his dream:

In the early 1940s, West was one of Hollywood's wealthiest women.  Her wise land investments earned tremendous returns.  Years of backing Chalky Wright paid off when he became the world featherweight champion in 1941.  (West compelled Morrie Cohen to override the racism against black boxers and arrange the match).  (Mae West: An Icon in Black and White, by Jill Watts, page 242.)

Although the fictional Chalky White was known as the mayor of Atlantic City's Chicken Bone Beach, that description did not apply to the real Chalky. 

Like other boxers, in the waning days of their careers, his championship status did little to help him financially.  Listed in "Jet" magazine's November 8, 1951 edition as a "has-been of boxing," Wright was included with "some of the most illustrious name-fighters of all time" who had money troubles:

Chalky Wright, former featherweight champion, who now lives as a fighter's second in Los Angeles.  A Maryland attorney recently pleaded for Wright for a $1,000 purse help up several years ago by the boxing commission of that state.  He claimed Wright was "destitute."  ("Jet," November 8, 1951, at pages 52-53.)

Even Muhammad Ali paid tribute to Chalky as one of the world's best fighters:

Angelo kept telling me, "You're not like any of them old fighters."  I know better.  Who I am is just what those who came before me made it possible for me to be.  Just ahead of me were some of the best fighters the world ever saw, like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Archie Moore, Johnny Bratton, Kid Gavilan, Sandy Saddler, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Floyd Patterson, Chalky Wright ... and others who had new styles and powerful punches.  (Elliott J. Gorn, quoting Ali, in Muhammad Ali, the People's Champ, atpage 79.)

Later in his life, using the pen name Jay Thomas Caldwell, Chalky wrote a book about himself entitled Me an' You.  He died in Los Angeles, in 1957, after slipping in a bathtub.
The International Boxing Hall of Fame provides more background on Chalky Wright:
Albert (Chalky) Wright's career is a lesson in perseverance.  Although he battled the best fighters in the world for more than a decade, it wasn't until his 139th pro fight that he earned a title shot.

When that opportunity presented itself - Wright took full advantage.

Born on February 10, 1912 in Durango, Mexico, Wright turned pro two weeks after his 16th birthday and scored a four-round win over Nilo Balles.  He spent the early part of his career campaigning in Southern California and learned his craft as he progressed.

Wright never shied from quality competition and fought bantamweight contenders Newsboy Brown and Pablo Dano, ex-champ Baby Arizmendi, featherweight contender Al Reid and three-division champ Henry Armstrong en route to the crown.

It wasn't until he began fighting on the East Coast in 1938 that the boxing world took notice of Wright, who at 5-7 1/2 was unusually tall for a featherweight.  He utilized his long reach and packed considerable power for a 126-pounder.  By 1941, Wright was ranked among the top featherweights in the world and secured a title fight by decisioning future champion Sal Bartolo.

On September 11, 1941, nearly 14 years after he turned pro, Wright knocked out Joey Archibald in the 11th round to win the world featherweight title.  Less than a month after winning the title, Wright engaged in two tough non-title fights, losing to top contender Jose Peralta and decisioning former champ Leo Rodak.

In 1942, Wright knocked out future 126-pound champion Richie Lemos and then made successful title defenses against Harry Jeffra (KO 10) and Lulu Constantino (W 15).  But by year's end, Wright lost his crown via decision to Willie Pep, one of boxing's all-time greats.  It has been said the first Pep-Wright encounter inaugurated the featherweight division's Golden Era.

Wright challenged Pep for the title in 1944 but lost another decision.   He would also drop two non-title contests to the legendary Pep.  Among the other champions Wright fought were Phil Terranova (KO 5), Jackie Wilson (W 10, NC 7) and Johnny Bratton (W 10).   He finally retired, a veteran of 201 bouts in a career that spanned 20 years, in 1948.

Wright died tragically on August 12, 1957 in Los Angeles after slipping in the bathtub.

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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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