By Jenny Peters
It has been 12 years since musical genius Ray Charles went to the great beyond at age 73, but his music is certainly living on, especially if you were lucky enough to be at the Hollywood Bowl in Southern California on August 17, 2016.
That night, Maceo Parker channeled Ray Charles’ unique style during a night to remember entitled “The Ultimate Tribute to Ray Charles.”
The evening began with the Christian McBride Big Band, who did a lively set along with special guest singer Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire fame, featuring songs including “In a Hurray,” “Red Clay” and “Here’s to Life.”
After a brief intermission, the big show began, with Maceo Parker, who is best known for his skills with the saxophone, surprising the audience by entering the stage wearing dark sunglasses and doing Ray’s unique shuffling walk as he approached the microphone set up center stage. Wearing a distinctive satin tuxedo jacket adorned with silver-and-blue designs, Parker looked every bit like Charles did in his heyday.
That’s a time Maceo Parker remembers well, as he idolized the blind piano player and singer as his own musical style began developing in the 1950s, eventually meeting Ray Charles later on in has career and even performing as his opening act in the 1990s. Parker, who played with James Brown’s band from 1964 to 1970 and later with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic as well as with Prince, wowed the packed Hollywood Bowl crowd with his unexpectedly wonderful vocals.
“This is like a dream come true for me,” Parker told the audience as he began an inspired set backed by A Tribute to the Ray Charles Orchestra, led by musical director Steve Sigmund (who played first trombone in Charles’ orchestra for over 20 years.
Beginning with “Let the Good Times Roll,” followed up by classics like “Georgia on My Mind,” “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” “You Don’t Know Me” and ‘I Got a Woman,” Parker and the band kept the Bowl rockin’. At about 10 p.m., they were joined by Karen Evans, Katrina Harper and Elaine Woodard, who presented “A Tribute to the Raelettes” by singing “Hit the Road, Jack,” “The Shadows of My Mind,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “What I Say.”
The show finished up with “Unchain My Heart,” as the whole crowd stood and cheered, both for the memory of Ray Charles and for the virtuoso performances as well on this very special evening at the Hollywood Bowl.