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Black History Month: Maceo Parker's idol, Ray Charles

Maceo Parker at the Liri Blues Festival, Italy, in 2009.
Simone Quattrociocchi
Maceo Parker at the Liri Blues Festival, Italy, in 2009.

Maceo Parker had many influences growing up, but Ray Charles was number one.

Maceo Parker and his brothers, Melvin and Kellis, grew up being crazy about music, all kinds of music. Their parents encouraged them and had the boys present a program of music, drama and poetry every Sunday morning from their front porch for the neighbors to enjoy. They won some local talent shows, too.

So, who does a young Black man from Kinston, N.C., look to for inspiration to become a professional musician and entertainer? 

Ray Charles would be a good choice. 

Ray Charles led his own band, wrote his own songs and pretty much created his own blend of rhythm and blues with a gospel beat that became known as “soul music.” Ray didn’t seem to care about fitting himself into categories; he even had hits on the country music charts.

Maceo and his brothers LOVED Ray Charles. Here’s what he told me in a phone interview several years ago:

“We heard ‘What’d I Say’ on the radio and tore the whole house up!”

Maceo and Melvin went on join James Brown’s band and learned a lot from him as well.

But it was Ray Charles who inspired Maceo to become the icon that he is today.

If you’ve seen a Maceo Parker concert in the last several years, you will have seen Maceo put on the sunglasses and sing, sounding just like Ray. 

You will also have heard Maceo’s declaration of love, which he hopes will heal the world’s troubles.

“Always remember, we LOVE YOU!”

Spreading the love for Black History Month.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.