It was Ray Charles who made me see the value of music and the way it serves to bring people together in spite of the fear of the unknown. It happened to me more than fifty years ago when I waited in our hall closet fearful of that unknown. I was nine and not quite understanding of the loud, anguished language of infidelity coming from my parents’ bedroom. Imperatives flung into an air charged with accusation and remorse. I listened silently. Had it always been this way? I cried as the shouting continued, punctuated with the sounds of a suitcase being flung open, then the slow shuffling of my dad’s signature, over-pronated walk. My father made his way down the hall stopping first to look into my room. I held my hand over my heart certain he could hear it pounding beyond the hallway door. I didn’t dare breathe as my dad moved on down the hall. I waited for another chronology of sound to unfold – footfalls stopped, the deep sigh, suitcase set down.
“Find it!” I demanded of the darkness as I envisioned my father standing before the shiny hifi stereo my mom got him last Christmas. At nine-years-old, I knew the power of that scratched and beautiful vinyl just as I knew the sound of the door to the stereo console opening and the turntable tray sliding forward. “He’s found it!” I said to myself as the soft strains of the Rayletts introductory refrain, I Can’t Stop Loving You, filled the air before the voice of my father took over – out distancing, for a moment, Ray Charles. My dad was singing for his life and his wife’s heart – yet again. Still, I didn’t move, there was more to come as I listened for the lighter footsteps that moved, hesitatingly at first, down the same hallway. After a moment there was only Ray Charles singing.
Finally, I could feel my lungs fill with air and my heart soar like a flock of doves released over an Olympic playing field at the sight of my beautiful parents dancing across the polished hardwood floor of our living room. Thank you Ray Charles.