Remember When: Ray Charles Moved to Seattle to Begin His Music Career

Seattle is ground zero for a great many important things in the American zeitgeist. From grunge music to Microsoft, Starbucks to Boeing, the Pacific Northwest’s Emerald City has helped spawn some of history’s most important cultural and corporate icons—not to mention several major musicians. And one of those is Ray Charles.

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Born in Albany, Georgia, on September 23, 1930, Charles grew up in Florida as a young boy. Before it was all said and done, he would become one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. But it was in Seattle where his career got started. Let’s dive into that story here.

The McSon Trio

When he got to the Northwest, Charles began to play in the city’s popular jazz joints, where he quickly began to earn a name for himself. Soon, he started The McSon Trio (known also as the Maxin Trio) with G.D. McKee and Milton Garred. And it was with that band he garnered his first recording project.

It’s easy to imagine Charles playing a tune in some smoky nightclub on Jackson Street, the city’s hub for jazz music, or at the Rocking Chair on I-5, and, through the cigarette smoke and clinking glasses, seeing Charles there, backed by upright bass and guitar. All the attention on the dynamic artist. In fact, Seattle was so important to his development that the Oscar-winning biopic starring Jaime Foxx showed Charles’ time there, including when he met a young, wide-eyed teenager named Quincy Jones.

Down Beat

Still a teenager, Charles and the group flew down to Los Angeles in 1949 to record their song “Confession Blues” on the Down Beat label. The mellow piano- and guitar-driven tune, which was produced by Jack Lauderdale, is much less lively than Charles’ standards since but it showcased an artist who could compel and captivate. The song also marked Charles’ first ever-tune to chart on Billboard.

So, while he didn’t cut the single in Seattle, it was in the Emerald City where he first planted real musical roots and got the confidence and the connections to take the next step in his musical journey. In 1952, he signed with Atlantic Records and in 1957, he released his debut self-titled studio LP, which included the songs “Come Back Baby,” “Mess Around,” “This Little Girl of Mine” and “I Got a Woman.”

Fans can check out that first recording here below.

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Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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