A tribute to Ray Charles

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January 3rd, 2012

Omaha, NE – A tribute to Ray Charles will be performed in Omaha this month. A friend and protégé of the late great performer will take the stage at the Holland Performing Arts Center.

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Ellis Hall and Ray Charles, lived somewhat parallel lives. The two performers were both born in Georgia, and both lived with a degenerative eye condition that left them blind. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune in 2009, Hall said he first met Ray Charles in 2001. The two struck a friendship and worked closely together until Charles’ death in 2004.

Watch Ellis Hall play the piano and sing Georgia on my Mind on the set of the 2004 film Ray. Actor Jamie Foxx stands next to him, wearing dark sunglasses and swaying in signature Ray Charles style. Foxx was preparing for his role playing the legendary soul singer.

Before Charles died, he asked the Kennedy Center to let Hall perform in his stead. He was introduced as his protégé, and the introduction helped boost Hall’s own musical career, which was in fact, already underway.
Hall performed with the 1970s and 1980s funk and soul group Tower of Power, along with several top artists, including Kenny G, Stevie Wonder and James Taylor. He also performed as a vocalist with the popular mock band The California Raisins.

Watch one of the early California Raisins commercials.

The California Raisins was a group of funky, wrinkled, animated raisins that began as a commercial for the California Raisin Advisory Board and ended up spawning two television specials and even a video game. Hall’s voice can also be heard on several movie soundtracks, including the 2000 clay-matian animated film Chicken Run, where he performed Flip, Flop and Fly.

But it will be the classic Ray Charles sound listeners will hear at Ellis Hall’s tribute performance in Omaha this month. Hall will perform Georgia on my Mind, Unchain my Heart and other classic songs by his friend and mentor Ray Charles.

The concert is part of the Omaha Symphony’s Symphony Rocks series, and will take place January 14 at the Holland Performing Arts Center.

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