While listening to the Air Force Choir’s beautiful rendition of America, the Beautiful during Former President Reagan’s state funeral yesterday, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another rendition of that song. Ray Charles’ version was always guaranteed to bring tears to one’s eyes, even those belonging to the most virulent of America’s detractors.
Ray Charles was a part of my childhood. My great aunt and uncle were some of his biggest fans and the raucous, fun What’d I Say was heard blasting many times in this same house that I, again, call home.
Later, I remember watching the famous/infamous 1980 “no más” contest between boxers Roberto Durán and Sugar Ray Leonard; the latter's given name is Ray Charles.
Before the fight, as it turns out, it was Charles who, instead of singing the National Anthem, put forth his inspiring, soulful, beautiful version of America, the Beautiful. When my step-dad heard those first chords and saw Charles sitting in front of the piano, swaying with his trademark sway, Dad had this prophecy: “There is no way Sugar Ray is going to lose this fight. Not now. Not with Ray Charles putting his benediction on it.” Roberto must have felt it, too.
Goodbye, wonderful Ray Charles. Like another great man whose life is being celebrated this week, you came from humble beginnings, took whatever blessings God gave you and used them to bless the rest of us.