Ray Charles used every trick he's learned in 35 years of singing last night at the Howard Theater. He added a low-and-dirty rumble to "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" that put a lustful edge on Rodgers & Hammersteinhs optimism. He sang "Georgia on My Mind" with pregnant pauses and simmering whispers that contained every pleasure home can hold. Backed by his 17-piece orchestra and five Raelettes, the Georgia native was at the top of his form.
He laced "Hit the Road, Jack" with a comic monologue about a woman kicking him out. He stretched the heartbreaking notes of "I Can't Stop Loving You" as if he were reaching out to bring his lover back. He belted out "What's I Say" as if he were a backwoods Georgia preacher of sex. Ray Charles knows more ways of bringing pleasure to a song than some entire record companies do.
The opening set featured a surprisingly good performancy by an unrecorded North Carolina quintet, W.D.J. & Company. Lead singer William "W.D.J." Jordan bore a passing physical resemblance to Otis Redding and definite vocal resemblance. This created a more than convincing tribute to Redding. Jordan was helped by guitarist Eddie Jones, who sounded like a cross between Redding's Steve Cropper and blues great Albert King.
Ray Charles, his orchestra, the Raelettes and W.D.J. & Company return to the Howard Theater for two shows tonight.