Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Zangara, Giuseppe (1900-1933) Gangster/Assassin

Chicago’s Mayor Anton Cermak planned to smash the Mob’s gamblers into submission. He would need someone dependable to act as his collector and street boss, the mayor's personal bagman. Enter Teddy Newberry, a lifelong gangster, who had been with Bugs Moran and then the Aillo family, and finally with Capone until his career ended.
After several months of acting as his street supervisor, Teddy Newberry sat down with Anton Cermak in the summer of 1931 and worked out a deal. As Newberry and Cermak saw it, with Capone and most of his top men behind bars or on the run from the law, what was left of the syndicate would easily fall apart. The fact that Roger Touhy was winning his shooting war against the Mob was another plus for them.

Guiseppe Zangara.

All that was needed, according to Newberry, to topple the Chicago syndicate, was to kill the head and then watch the body die. Enter Roger Touhy. Anton Cermak, who had known him for decades, wanted Touhy to join forces with him and Teddy Newberry to help them jointly run the underworld in Chicago and the Midwest. In 1959 Touhy told the Illinois parole board that in early 1933 Newberry and Cermak called him down to city hall for a discussion. In a meeting in the mayor's office, Cermak and Newberry urged Touhy to wage a bigger war with the Mob, but Touhy laughed it off saying he didn't have the strength to fight the Nitti organization, which could muster at least 500 gunmen in a week. Cermak said, "You can have the entire police department." Touhy eventually agreed, and Cermak lived up to his end of the bargain.
He sent word to his police commanders that Roger Touhy was to be cooperated with in his war against the syndicate for control of the Chicago Teamsters. The number of Capone men killed after Cermak took office tripled in two years. Some one hundred gangsters were killed in ambushes and street fights. For a while, the hoods fell at a rate of one gangland murder a day with most of the dead coming from the syndicate's ranks.
Cermak beefed up his security forces and moved from the Congress Hotel to the Morrison Hotel where he paid for a private elevator that went non-stop to his penthouse suite. He increased his city police guard from two to five officers and had detectives sent to protect his daughters. He hired private bodyguards to augment his city police detail and then took a midnight train to Miami where he owned a home. The task of ending the union war with the Touhys and take out Anton Cermak fell to Paul Ricca, acting boss since Nitti had been shot. Ricca determined that the only way to deal with Cermak was to kill him. But knocking off the mayor of the nation's second largest city would bring down more heat on the Mob then Cermak ever could.      
Giuseppe Zangara was a hapless Italian immigrant with a gambling problem. He was born September 7, 1900, in Ferruzzano, a small and very poor village in Calabria, Italy. His mother died while he was still a small boy. His father remarried a woman with six daughters, and Zangara, small, fragile, seldom smiling and deathly quiet, was lost in the crowd that was his new family. By all accounts Zangara's father was an odd man, angry at the world. He had constant problems with authority and he beat his children. It was no surprise to anyone when, aged six, after Zangara's step mother placed him in a public school, his father withdrew him two months later. Zangara, the child, went to work beside his father building roads.
Later, he learned the work of a bricklayer, which was, in Italy at that time, still an art form and required years of apprenticeship. Apparently Zangara had an aptitude for the trade and at 17 was already a mason, no small feat. Zangara the sombre and unhappy child grew into Zangara the sombre and unhappy man, enraged at the world because he was poor and because he was taken from school as a child. During his trial he talked about his unhappiness openly and often.
Perhaps, if for no other reason, he finally had someone to listen to him.   In 1917 Zangara, was drafted into the Italian Infantry and stayed in the Army for five years. While in the service, he was arrested, on October 24, 1921, for carrying a knife. He was tried and convicted but the sentence was suspended. Discharged from the military in 1923, Zangara sailed to the United States from Naples, arriving in Philadelphia aboard the liner Martha Washington, on August 18, 1923, five days before his twenty-third birthday. He went to Patterson, New Jersey, moved in with an uncle, Vincent Cafaro, a bricklayer who found him a job with the construction company he was working for. As a skilled laborer and a member of the Bricklayers Union 2 in Patterson, Zangara earned as much as $12.00 an hour, an extremely high hourly rate when the average national income was less then $5,600 a year. He filed a declaration to become a citizen of the United States, doing so only because it was required by his union that all members be United States citizens or at least have filed to become citizens. The names of the witnesses on the declaration, disappeared with most of the official information that surrounded Zangara's background, but on September 11, 1929, Zangara became a United States citizen, and registered as a Republican.
Later that month, on September 28, someone named Giuseppe Zangara of Patterson, New Jersey, was arrested for running a massive 1,000-gallon still in rural New Jersey. Zangara used the name Sam Livari, but later changed that to Luigi DiBernardo. Arrested with him was Tony Adgostino, a known racketeer in New Jersey.
On May 26, 1930 Zangara/DiBernardo pleaded guilty to owning the still and was sentenced to one year and one day at Atlanta Federal Prison. During sentencing, United States Attorney Philip Forman, later a federal judge, asked, "Your real name is Zangara, isn't it?" and Zangara answered that it was. The fact that the prosecutor knew him by sight implied that Zangara wasn't a stranger around the federal courthouse. DiBernardo/Zangara entered Atlanta Federal prison, on May 26, 1930 and was paroled seven months later on December 20, 1930. Later, when the Secret Service investigated the Cermak shooting, they accepted Zangara's explanation for the missing seven months as his having been in Central America. Even more remarkably, when Phillips Forman, the U.S. Attorney, informed the Secret Service about Zangara's time in prison, the agents pulled Zangara's prison photo and compared it to a picture taken in Florida when he was arrested and determined that "They seem to match, however, our Zangara has a lower forehead but, otherwise, they match." The investigating agent never followed up on the lead.
In 1931 Zangara started to change. He lost interest in his job and avoided people even more than he did in the past, and then, without any apparent reason, he moved to Florida. When he left New Jersey it was in a hurry, leaving all his possessions in a boarding house. In Florida, Zangara became a degenerate gambler, betting mostly on horses. When he gave up on the horses, Zangara turned to the dogs, and in one incident lost $200 in one night, a huge amount of money for anyone in the depression-racked America of 1933, but a small fortune to an out-of-work bricklayer.
On February 12, 1933 Chicago city hall announced that his Honor, Anton J. Cermak of Chicago, would make an appearance in a Miami park, at night, to greet the arrival of president-elect Roosevelt. Thousands were expected to turn out for the event. It was a godsend for the Mob. Ricca sent word to Dave Yaras, a transplanted Chicago hood, that they were going to murder Cermak, and Yaras had to line somebody up to take the fall for the murder, a patsy. Yara reported back that he had just the man they needed. Dead broke, Zangara took a slot in Dave Yaras' highly secretive heroin-smuggling operation, in or about early 1932, where he was spotted regularly around the municipal docks. According to Reverend Elmer Williams, a Chicago minister who exposed political corruption in the Windy City during the Capone and Nitti reigns, Zangara worked in Ricca's narcotics processing plant in extreme south Florida, as a mule, transporting narcotics up to New York, a city he knew well.
In New York, Zangara turned the dope over to distribution specialists like Bugsy Siegel in Brooklyn, Longy Zwillman in Jersey and others. He would collect the money for delivery and then return to Florida to run the entire cycle all over again. According to both Williams and Jack Lait, while Zangara was on one of his runs to New York he was spotted in a Mob casino in Manhattan by a group of the New Jersey hoods that he had cheated back in 1930. Now the hoods from New Jersey had a make on him they brought their complaint to Ricca since, technically, Zangara was under Chicago's protection.
The New Jersey hoods wanted him so they could kill him. Even without New Jersey, Zangara had been revealed as an unreliable worker, a problem in a racket as volatile as narcotics. So Yaras would have to deal with him. The gangsters sat Zangara down and explained his two choices. The Mob could kill him or he could take his chances and shoot Cermak for them. Shooting Cermak, they explained, had its up side. Maybe the police would kill him; maybe the crowd would rip him to pieces; maybe he'd get lucky and get caught after he killed Cermak. He could pretend he was insane and, at the most, he might get ten, maybe fifteen years on a farm for the mentally insane and then he could walk; all debts paid.
Someone had checked and Florida, second only to Texas, as Jack Ruby later pointed out, had the most lenient laws in dealing with mentally unstable criminals. Zangara may have actually believed that he was going to get away with it. When the Secret Service went into his room after the shooting they found only a few personal items in his travel bag, which was left on his bed, neatly packed. It included clothes and three books, The Wehman Brothers Easy Method for Learning Spanish Quickly, Italian Self Taught and an English-Italian grammar book.
There were several newspaper clippings about Roosevelt's trip to Florida and one about the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. But, of course, the Mob had no intention of letting Zangara walk away. According to Roger Touhy, the second after Zangara shot Cermak a Mob assassin would plug Zangara and disappear back into the crowd. The Miami police, Secret Service or Cermak's private guards would get the recognition. Whoever it was, the American public would hail them as a hero. Jack Lait, a top Chicago reporter noted: "Had Cermak escaped Zangara's bullets another triggerman would have gotten him." Lait was right of course, except there weren't going to be any mistakes because Paul Ricca, the Mob's acting boss, wouldn't allow that to happen. Ricca was sending his best killers to Florida to make sure the hit went off smoothly: Three Fingers Jake White and Frankie Rio. Two days before Anton Cermak was shot, a Chicago beat cop spotted White sitting inside the main terminal of the Chicago railroad. Within minutes, several carloads of detectives were inside the station and had White and his companions, Frankie Rio and ward politician Harry Hockstien, up against the wall for a body search. The officers found nothing on the three smirking hoods except a bag of doughnuts and were forced to release them. White and Rio explained that they were on their way to Miami, Florida for a short vacation.
On February 14, 1933, the day before the shooting, Zangara went to Davis Pawn shop in downtown Miami, and spent eight dollars on a .32 revolver and ten bullets. Gordon Davis, the Miami pawn broker who sold Zangara his gun along with ten bullets, admitted that he had a criminal record in Chicago and that he had known Zangara "for a long time." Gordon said he didn't ask Zangara why he felt he needed to purchase the revolver, "I ain't a wet nurse, Pal," he told a Secret Service investigator. While still in the store he placed five bullets in the chamber and kept five in his pocket. Then Zangara started stalking Cermak. On the day of the shooting, at about 11:30 in the morning, Zangara went to the Bostick Hotel at 217 South Miami Avenue near the park and rented a room. He paid a dollar for the night, and was assigned to room 4.
Before he entered the room, Zangara asked to see all the exits and entrances to the hotel, then he went to his room, left the door open, sat on the edge of the bed and stared down the hallway towards the front door of the hotel. By 6:30 that evening, he was gone. What Zangara knew, although it has never been established how he knew, was that the hotel was owned by Horace and May Bostick, close friends of Anton Cermak and that they expected the Mayor to drop by that evening before going to greet the President. "Zangara's object in coming here," May Bostick later told the Secret Service, "was to kill Cermak." From the hotel, Zangara walked several blocks to a cigar manufacturing plant owned by Andrea Valenti, an immigrant from Sicily who had once lived in Chicago. 
Zangara and Valenti left the plant at about 7:30 pm, walking to Bayfront Park. With them were Steve Valenti and Lorenzo Grandi, all Sicilian immigrants. The Valentis and Grandi were arrested after the Cermak shooting, questioned, and released. With forty acres of Palm Trees and open lawns edged on to Biscayne Bay, Bayfront Park was a perfect place for a political rally and an assassination. At its south end the park held an amphitheatre, with some eight thousand seats.
At the end of the amphitheatre was a flat bandstand and behind that a stage where dignitaries, including Cermak, waited for the President-elect's arrival. By the time Zangara arrived, the park was jammed with a crowd of about 15,000 people. They had miscalculated badly. No one reckoned, not even the police, on such a large turnout. Desperate, Zangara, the Valentis and Grandi began to push, shove and kick their way through the crowd, so they could reach the bandstand. Anton Cermak wasn't feeling well that night. While in Chicago some bad water from a nearby canal had seeped into his hotel's water reserves, and Cermak had drunk it, causing a stomach infection. A lesser man would have cancelled the night's engagement, but Tony Cermak had always been an extraordinary man. Yet, when a bodyguard handed him his bulky, black bullet-proof vest, Cermak said he didn't want it. It was too humid outside and he was too weak to carry its weight.
At 9:25 that evening, Roosevelt's car entered the park and stopped next to the bandstand area where Cermak and the other dignitaries were seated. It was warm that night. The humidity that hung in the air was almost stifling. The coconut trees and royal palms that covered the park were bathed in red, white and blue lights, giving the entire scene an eerie feel to it. At that same moment, Zangara and his party had pushed their way up to the second aisle from the bandstand and were less than 35 feet away from Roosevelt's car, where Zangara had a clear view of FDR, whose back was to him. Roosevelt stood on top of the trunk. Dressed in a white suit, with a lone floodlight beaming down on him, he was a perfect target. He spoke to the crowd for about eight minutes, and when the speech ended, looked up onto the reviewing stand and saw Cermak sitting in the front row, and waved to him saying, "Tony! Come on down here." Smiling broadly, Cermak stood up and walked down to FDR. As he did, his bodyguards rose with him and stepped up to join him, but Cermak told them to stay on the stage. It was, he said later, unseemly for the mayor of Chicago to have more bodyguards than the President of the United States.
Cermak walked up to Roosevelt's side of the car, the side facing Zangara, and the two politicians shook hands and chatted for about three minutes. It was now about 9:35pm. Cermak stepped away from the car, turned to his right and briefly embraced Secret Service agent Clark with his left arm. Cermak and Clark had known each other when Clark was assigned to the Chicago Office of the Secret Service. There was a brief exchange, a quick joke between them, and then, for some unknown reason, Cermak walked towards the crowd to his left, away from the stage. Perhaps, as Judge Lyle suggested, Cermak had spotted Harry Hockstien, the politician who was questioned in the Chicago train station with Nitti's shooters the night before.
Harry Hockstien had grown rich enough from city politics to afford a mini mansion in the upscale neighborhood of Riverdale, next to Frank Nitti's place. In fact, it was at Hochstien’s home that the Outfit met in 1934 and decided to go through with the Brown and Bioff Hollywood extortion scandal and, a year later, in December, met there again and decided to kill union boss Tommy Maloy. Frankie Rio, it was widely known, ran Hockstien. Whatever the reason, Cermak clearly took over a dozen steps away from the stage and walked toward Zangara.
The very second Cermak stepped away from the car, a group of local businessmen, carrying with them an immense, imitation telegram welcoming FDR to Florida, surrounded the car, unwittingly forming a human shield around the President elect. At that moment, a tall blonde woman, who had been sitting in the first aisle, got up leaving her seat empty. Zangara leaped up onto the empty seat, drew his revolver from his pants pocket and fired rapidly, letting off five rounds, pointing the gun to his left, at Cermak, and not to his right, at Roosevelt. The first bullet hit Cermak in the right armpit, causing him to grab his chest with both arms, and slowly sink to his knees. Bullets struck several bystanders as well.
Zangara repeatedly said, and the Miami Police agreed with him that he never got off more than three rounds from his pistol. Furthermore, Zangara's pistol was manufactured to fire five rounds, yet police recovered seven bullets from the scene.
The direction Zangara's gun was pointing when he fired was almost the only thing that eyewitnesses agreed on. Zangara was aiming at Cermak, not Roosevelt. As United States Representative-elect from Florida, Mark Wilcox and Chicagoan Robert Gore, who were both standing only a few feet from Zangara, told a radio interviewer minutes after the shooting he was shooting at Cermak. Reports immediately went out that Cermak had been shot by Chicago gangsters. But, after the first day, there was no other mention of gangsters being involved in the shooting.
Later, while Roosevelt waited in the halls of the Jackson Memorial Hospital where Cermak was being treated, he pointed out to his Secret Service detail, that not one of the six people shot was near him when they were hit. In fact, they were at least thirty feet away from him, but only two or three feet away from Cermak. He added Zangara had not fired a single shot at him during the eight-minute window that was his speech. Roosevelt concluded that Zangara was "a Chicago gangster" sent to kill Cermak and said as much for the rest of his life.
In 1957, Roger Touhy told the Illinois Parole Board what really happened in Miami that night. When Zangara started shooting there was mass confusion. People were screaming and running, ducking and falling. Everything was happening just the way it was supposed to. Two syndicate killers, Three Fingers Jack White and Frankie Rio, both wearing badges from the Cicero Police Department, waited until Cermak fell wounded, and then stepped out from the crowd, with their .45s ready.
Shortly, uniformed police, Secret Service, plain-clothes detectives and Cermak's private detectives would all have their weapons drawn, so White and Rio didn't stand out. They fired at Zangara in an attempt to silence him, but the shots missed and nicked several bystanders instead. Then they slipped into the crowd of 10,000 confused and frightened people and disappeared. All eyes were on Zangara anyway, as the angry crowd leaped on him. Before police could pull him to safety, the rabble had torn off most of the little man's clothes and beaten him badly.
Yet Zangara never released his grip on the pistol despite the attack. When police were finally able to reach him they disarmed him, handcuffed him and tossed him into the trunk of a nearby truck, while three enormous Miami policemen sat on him all the way to the jail. The Chicago police department was certain that the shooting was a Mob hit, and asked the Miami police to round up eighteen Chicagoans, all known to be in Miami, twelve of whom were known syndicate associates, and hold them for questioning.
However, the arrests were never made. When Chicago reporters followed this up, it turned out that the request had been cancelled by the syndicate's favorite State's Attorney, Thomas Courtney. From his cell, Zangara told a Miami police detective that he "had to kill," but he wasn't specific on whom he had to kill, because if he didn't keep quiet, "my friends will kill me tomorrow." In sharp contrast to his past behavior, after his arrest Zangara was voluble and excited, shooting defiant looks into press cameras. At times, he was almost giddy with joy.
The local jailers suspected he was having a mental breakdown, yet doctors who examined him that night declared that he was normal in every respect. Just hours into their investigation, the Secret Service was already convinced that Zangara was a communist and followed that lead, extensively and exclusively, even though when asked for his views on socialism, anarchism, fascism and communism, Zangara replied that they were all "foolish."
Yet, despite the lack of evidence, the Government's investigators concluded that Zangara was motivated by his political beliefs. From his hospital bed in Miami, Anton Cermak insisted that he was Zangara's target. When his secretary arrived from Chicago, Cermak said, "So you're alive! I figured maybe they'd shot up the office (in Chicago) too." He rallied again when his family arrived but on February 27, Cermak caught pneumonia, which caused the area around his right lung to almost double in size. Up until he lapsed into a coma, Cermak believed that he would recuperate, but at 6:57 am he died. In all, Cermak held out for 19 days in a heroic struggle against colitis, pneumonia and finally gangrene.
Cermak didn't die from his bullet wounds, but Zangara was placed on trial for murder. He was represented by three court appointed lawyers who, although experts in their field of civil law, had never tried a criminal case before a jury. The lawyers allowed their client to plead guilty to murder. When he did, the court sentenced him to death. Just sixty days after he was tried, Zangara strutted to the electric chair, where he sat, his feet dangling above the floor. The guards placed a hood over his head, as Zangara gazed out at the room of reporters and state officials asking, "No pictures? Well, Goodbye! Adios to the world! Go ahead push the button! Viva Italia!"
Before the switch was pulled Zangara had turned to the prison's warden, Leo Chapman, and smiled. Chapman had been one of Zangara's very few visitors in jail, and had become convinced that the tiny man wasn't insane, and that he was a member of "some sort of secret criminal syndicate." As Chapman had walked from the cell to the death chamber with Zangara, he and the Miami Police Commissioner asked him if he was part of an organized group that plotted to kill Cermak. Zangara replied that he was alone. But now Zangara grinned slyly at Chapman and said, "Viva Comorra!" one of many Italian terms for the Mafia. Then he leaned back in the chair and 2,300 volts put an end to his strange life

No comments:

Post a Comment




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


Digital art selected for the Daily Inspiration #528


About Me

My photo