Ray Charles And The Birth Of A Classic

In 1927, Howard Hoagland Carmichael was working at a law firm in his native Indiana. He befriended cornet player Bix Beiderbecke, who introduced Hoagland to trumpet player Louis Armstrong. Smitten by the jazz music his friends played, Hoagy, as he was known, quit the law firm and moved to New York, attempting to make it in the music business as a composer.

Another friend of Hoagy, saxophone player and bandleader Frankie Trumbauer, suggested to the former attorney “Why don’t you write a song called ‘Georgia?’” and helped get the lyrics started by adding “It ought to go ‘Georgia, Georgia’.” Big help that Frankie was.

At a party one night, Hoagy sat at the piano and began to bang out a tune based on Trumbauer’s suggestion. His college roommate, Stu Gorrell, who moved to New York to make a name for himself in banking, was with him, and suggested a song title – “Georgia on My Mind.”

Neither Carmichael nor Gorrell had ever been to Georgia. In fact, it has been suggested that Gorrell, who wrote the lyrics to “Georgia on My Mind,” was not writing about the state at all. He wrote the song’s words about Carmichael’s sister, who at that time was going through a messy divorce. Her name? Georgia.

On September 15, 1930, Hoagy Carmichael and His Orchestra made the first recording of “Georgia on My Mind.” Bix Beiderbecke played cornet in what turned out to be his last recording session. He died from pneumonia less than a year later at age 28.

That record wasn’t a big seller, but one year later, on September 24, 1931, Frankie Trumbauer, the man who suggested Carmichael write a song about Georgia, recorded the tune and had a #10 hit with it.

In the years that followed other jazz greats recorded renditions of “Georgia on My Mind,” including Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Gene Krupa with Anita O’Day.

Prior to “Georgia on My Mind,” Stu Gorrell had never written a song. The closest he came to doing so was suggesting that Carmichael name a tune he wrote “Star Dust.” Subsequent to “Georgia on My Mind,” Gorrell never wrote another song. He went on to become a Vice President at Chase Bank.

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Ray Charles was born in Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930, eight days after Carmichael first recorded “Georgia on My Mind.” Charles became familiar with the tune from all the versions of it performed over the years. He would hum the tune in his car on the way to gigs. He would hum the tune in his car on the way home from gigs. His driver, Tommy Brown, had an idea. Said Charles, “Cat said, ‘You hum it so much, why don’t you record it?’”

Charles took Brown’s advice. In 1960, “Georgia on My Mind” became Ray Charles’ first #1 pop hit.

On April 24, 1979, “Georgia on My Mind,” written by two men who had never been to Georgia, and possibly about the sister of one of those men, was adopted by the Georgia General Assembly as Georgia’s state song.

Today’s playlist is made up of twenty classic Ray Charles’ recordings, including the sublime “Georgia on My Mind.”

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