Ray Charles Singers

Reaching number three on the pop charts in 1964 with one of the most successful easy listening singles of the '60s, "Love Me with All Your Heart (Cuando Caliente el Sol)," the Ray Charles Singers made numerous genteel albums of choral mood music throughout the '50s and '60s. Although they were led by a man named Ray Charles, this group had no connection whatsoever to Ray Charles the famous soul singer, and certainly no connection whatsoever to soul music. The coincidence of two such different artists sharing the same name led the Ray Charles of the Ray Charles Singers, in fact, to bill himself as "The Other Ray Charles" when he was given a TV credit. This Ray Charles was born Charles Raymond Offenberg on September 13, 1918 in Chicago. Working in radio, Broadway, and in local bands, he got his major break when he landed a job as an arranger for Perry Como's radio backing group in the late '40s, remaining in that position when Como got a TV program. By the mid-'50s, the group called the Ray Charles Singers replaced the Fontaine Sisters as Como's TV backing ensemble. The Ray Charles Singers recorded on their own for Essex, MGM, and Decca before hitting their commercial stride on Enoch Light's Command label in the '60s, with arrangements emphasizing lush instrumentation and soft, breathy singing. There is little music from the era more white bread than records by the Ray Charles Singers, with vocals and instrumentation smooth and saccharine enough to fit onto elevator Muzak programs, and almost too wholesome sounding for TV milk commercials. For material, the group favored interpretations of popular standards, also including some Mexican and South American pop and bossa nova songs. "Love Me with All Your Heart," in fact, was a translation of a Mexican song, "Cuando Caliente el Sol," which Charles first heard aboard a cruise ship. Originally the B-side of a cover of "Hello Dolly!," it became an unexpected hit in 1964. The group had several more Top 40 singles that year -- "Al-Di-La" and "One More Time" -- and hit number 11 with the album Something Special for Young Lovers. After the Ray Charles Singers (who rarely appeared live in concert) passed their prime as a recording act, Charles continued to work in musical direction on TV programs like Sha Na Na and The Muppet Show. ~ Richie Unterberger

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