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Song Of The Month April 2011: “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles

April 6, 2011

The month of April this year is pretty fantastic for sports fans around the world so it seems fitting that the Song Of The Month should fit in with one of the global sporting events of the month: The Masters in Augusta, Georgia. Sky Sports UK have used a version (one of many) of the song to soundtrack one of their various coverage trailers of the first golf major of the season. The version used is indicative of what you’d expect in terms of advertising such an event: the marriage of old (the old jazz standard/ the history of The Masters) and new (a modernised take of the standard/ the latest tournament). The use of tonal “diversity” over elongated vowels is a trademark of American populist vocals and so completes the whole package the advertisement presents to its viewer.

As mentioned before, there are countless versions of the jazz standard but its undeniable that the definitive version was that released by Ray Charles in the autumn of 1960, 30 years after the song was first penned and performed by Hoagy Carmichael and His Orchestra. The song marked a point in Charles’ career where he had grown tired with writing original material and instead opted to rework traditional and some lesser-known songs, receiving both critical and commercial acclaim.

“Georgia On My Mind” was featured on the album The Genius Hits The Road released in the spring of 1960 but the single was released in the autumn with “What’d I Say” getting another public airing as its B-side (“What’d I Say” was released as a single in its own right the year before). This single won him two Grammy awards, for Best Performance By A Pop Single Artist and Best Male Vocal Performance Single Record or Track (back in the days when a Grammy was a more valued prize for an artist to collect). A further accolade, one of huge American cultural significance and indeed personal significance to the native Georgian was bestown on the song as in 1979, the Georgia General Assembly chose the song as the State of Georgia’s song. It has been used in countless motion pictures and television series and following the release of the motion picture Ray, like many Ray Charles’ releases, the song enjoyed a further increase in sales and popularity.

Every version recorded since has been and will continue to be compared to Ray Charles’ version. His heartfelt rendition seemed to encapsulate the potential of the song emotively and that in itself is a wonderful thing to say of any artist. “Genius”, like “legend” is over-used to the point of a whole different meaning today but using the definition as was originally intended, Ray Charles was a performer deserving of such a term.

Enjoy the song and enjoy the golf.

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