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Ray Charles in Israel

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Ray Charles in Israel

When the ‘Genius of Soul’ sang ‘Hava Nagila’ with David Ben-Gurion

Shalom Goldman

Nov. 4 2019

“I had always heard that I was popular in Israel, but I didn’t get over there until the early seventies,” the soul genius Ray Charles recalled. “Some people asked me to do a documentary. I liked the idea. I’d never done anything like that before. The film people knew I wasn’t a scholar or a theologian, but they had heard that I had a decent working knowledge of the Bible. They had also heard that the Israelis liked me, and they hoped the two things would blend.”

Ray Charles, accompanied by his five backup singers, the Raelettes, arrived in Israel in early December 1972. In the first two weeks of that month they performed at five wildly successful concerts. Israeli fans of the “Genius of Soul” thronged the concert halls of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. Fans cheered the musicians in the streets and the press gave their concert tour wide coverage.

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The riveting story of the Jerusalem concert is best told by the genius himself: In his autobiography, Brother Ray, (co-written with David Ritz) Charles wrote that, “In thirty years on the road, I had never experienced anything like this. We were supposed to do two shows, but the first one had the crowd so crazy and happy that they wouldn’t leave. The second crowd was due any minute, but the first crowd wasn’t about to move.”

The concert promoters were rattled by the raucous audience and wanted to clear the hall by force. But Charles suggested that they announce that ticket holders to the first show will be allowed to stay in the hall, as long as they gave up their seats. As Charles remembered, “He made the announcement and everyone cheered. So for the second show there were Israelis everywhere. … I was sure glad the place didn’t catch fire, because we all would have burned up together. But fortunately the only fire was the one in them and in me. I can’t remember ever feeling more loved.”

(Snip)

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