June 2

This Day in History

Music

Jun 2, 1962:

Ray Charles takes country music to the top of the pop charts

Ray Charles was one of the founding fathers of soul music—a style he helped create and popularize with a string of early 1950s hits on Atlantic Records like "I Got A Woman" and "What'd I Say." This fact is well known to almost anyone who has ever heard of the man they called "the Genius," but what is less well known—to younger fans especially—is the pivotal role that Charles played in shaping the course of a seemingly very different genre of popular music. In the words of his good friend and sometime collaborator, Willie Nelson, speaking before Charles' death in 2004, Ray Charles the R&B legend "did more for country music than any other living human being." The landmark album that earned Ray Charles that praise was Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which gave him his third #1 hit in "I Can't Stop Loving You," which topped the U.S. pop charts on this day in 1962

Executives at ABC Records—the label that wooed Ray Charles from Atlantic with one of the richest deals of the era—were adamantly opposed to the idea that Charles brought to them in 1962: to re-record some of the best country songs of the previous 20 years in new arrangements that suited his style. As Charles told Rolling Stone magazine a decade later, ABC executives said, "You can't do no country-western things....You're gonna lose all your fans!" But Charles recognized the quality of songs like "I Can't Stop Loving You" by Don Gibson and "You Don't Know Me," by Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker, and the fact that his version of both of those country songs landed in the Top 5 on both the pop and R&B charts was vindication of Charles's long-held belief that "There's only two kinds of music as far as I'm concerned: good and bad."

This all-embracing attitude toward music was one that Ray Charles developed during a childhood immersed in the sounds of jazz, blues, gospel and country. To him, the boundaries between those styles of music were made to be crossed, and he made a career out of doing just that. Released over the initial objections of his record label and its distributors, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music went on to be the biggest-selling album of 1962, occupying the top spot on the Billboard album chart for 14 weeks. "I Can't Stop Loving You," held the #1 spot on the singles chart for five weeks beginning on this day in 1962, eventually becoming the biggest pop hit of Ray Charles's monumental career.

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