The genius of Ray Charles was the ability to channel so many major elements of American music: gospel, country, jazz, rhythm and blues and the call-and-response form that dated back to slave songs. The arrangements varied from the syrupy orchestral and choral backings of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” to the sexual moans and groans of “What’d I Say,” a song that was banned on many radio stations at the time. But tying them all together was the exuberant rasp of Charles’ gravelly voice.
His version of “Georgia on My Mind” used to be played with a video montage each time Georgia Public Television went off the air nightly. With the advent of 24-hour broadcasting, it is rarely used now, the last time being Feb. 17, 2009 for the permanent sign-off of GPB’s analog TV stations.
The song was the theme song to the CBS sitcom set in Atlanta, “Designing Women,” initially as an instrumental performed by Doc Severinsen and later a recording by Ray Charles. Charles’ version was also sampled for rap group Field Mob’s 2005 single “Georgia,” featuring Jamie Foxx and Ludacris. Lil Wayne also uses it in his satirical song about George W. Bush called “Georgia Bush.”
Sometime after 2000, Charles invited Italian singer Giorgia Todrani to sing it with him after learning she was named in honor of the song.
Jamie Foxx (who portrayed Charles in a biopic) and Alicia Keys, backed by Quincy Jones and His Orchestra, performed a new arrangement in honor of Ray Charles at the 2005 Grammy Awards.
At the time of his death at age 73 on June 10, 2004, Charles averaged about 200 concerts a year. “Georgia on My Mind” was usually a highlight.