Ray Charles: Bringing his music to TV, film


Few artists can claim to have had such a wide-ranging impact on music as Ray Charles. During a career that has spanned some 58 years, the icon performed on more than 250 albums -- many of them top sellers -- in a variety of musical genres.

Representatives from Ray Charles Enterprises are currently cataloging unreleased songs at Charles' Los Angeles studios. The intention is to license those findings for release with recordings from the 1960s that are long out of print. Charles retained the rights to his master recordings from 1960 on, including classics like "Hit the Road Jack" and "Georgia on My Mind," as well as titles not typically associated with Charles, such as "Still Crazy After All These Years" and "Take Me Home Country Road."

By the estate's estimate, only about 20 of Charles' 1,500 recordings have been used in film (more than 80 of them), TV or advertising. During his lifetime, Charles normally wouldn't allow his tracks to appear on compilation albums or soundtrack discs, which in many cases bolstered the value of the original Charles albums.

For example, while 1993's "Sleepless in Seattle" featured Charles' version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," the tune never appeared on the soundtrack, meaning considerable revenue was lost.

Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the licensing of his name and image, was brought on board to expedite music and marketing deals. "He jokingly referred to recordings as his 401k," Gumina says, when asked why Charles' songs weren't available sooner.

Evidently, Charles thought that by age 75, he'd be too old to sing and no one would want to come to his concerts. He figured at that age he would release the rights for use of his music in films, TV and commercials.

As a result, Charles shrewdly decided to create his own publishing firm so he could be paid a royalty any time someone played one of the songs he owned. But it never quite worked out that way. "It was frustrating in the beginning because his quotes for using music were so high," Gumina says. Ultimately, tightly knit music supervisors compared notes and refused to use the songs due to their high price tags.

Another challenge facing Charles' publishing firm is the fact that many of the songs in question were not digitally mastered, meaning music supervisors could not listen to 30-second samples via popular outlets like iTunes -- a problem Gumina says has cost the Ray Charles Foundation many opportunities. "There are so many songs Ray recorded, and no one has ever heard of them," he says, adding that typically, such songs are owned -- and promoted -- by huge labels. "We're a small operation."

Small or not, Gumina expects plenty of interest in Brother Ray's '60s recordings, which he hopes will help prolong the musician's unique legacy. "Any money we earn is sent to the Ray Charles Foundation in Los Angeles," he says.