Who Wrote Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind?”

Georgia, Georgia / The whole day through / Just an old sweet song / Keeps Georgia on my mind, Ray Charles’ effortless voice floats above crying strings, carefree keys, and canned harmonies. Charles’ 1960 rendition took “Georgia on My Mind” to No. 1, opening the doors for the song to become the highly covered classic it is today. However, decades before Charles’ well-loved version ever came to be, “Georgia On My Mind” was an already cemented jazz standard.

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So Who Wrote It?

“Georgia on My Mind” was originally composed in 1930 by famed musician/actor Hoagy Carmichael with its words written by banker and one-time lyricist Stuart Gorrell.

The two reportedly met at Indiana University where they were students. Fast-forward a few years postgrad, the old college buddies were together at a party in New York when Carmichael played a new ditty he had begun to compose.

Once the party ended, the two went back to an apartment to work out the tune together. On display in the Carmichael Room at Indiana University, one can see the musical notes Carmichael and Gorrell exchanged on a small piece of cardboard that night while perfecting what would be “Georgia on My Mind.”

Carmichael would pen many more songs while Gorrell never wrote another lyric again, instead he became Vice President of Chase Bank. Although Gorrell is not legally credited as a co-writer, Carmichael regularly sent his friend his fair share of the royalties.

As for the song’s subject matter, there have been several speculations that the tune is not about the southern state, but rather about a woman – Carmichael’s sister, Georgia, to be exact.

Under the Covers

Georgia-born legend Ray Charles made an instant hit out of “Georgia on My Mind” with his 1960 rendition, a version that would later be used as Georgia’s official state song.

After Charles’ success, the song became regularly covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, The Band, and Willie Nelson. The latter’s cover would also chart at No. 1, crossing genre lines and making the tune just as much a country hit as Charles’ soul classic.

Below, watch Nelson and Charles perform “Georgia on My Mind” together.

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records

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