“Tell me what’d I fly…”
When my dad, a professional musician, was working A Chorus Line on Broadway, he once sent in a sub for a week in order to work with Ray Charles, whom he loved. When he came back, he kept bragging and blabbing about “my buddy Ray” (e.g.: “I was playing with my buddy Ray Charles last night,” etc…).
After a while of this, the drummer got fed up and (noticing my father’s recent haircut) asked, “Hey E! Who cut your hair? Your buddy Ray?” Laughter, of course, abounded, at my pop’s expense.
Periodically over the years, my father would tell me a story he had heard from members of Ray’s band. Here’s the best one:
After Ray Charles had gotten famous and was riding in a chartered private jet, every once in a while, the pilot would call for “a Mr. Ray Charles” over the intercom, and Ray would spring up and enter the cockpit. Apparently, the pilot was a big Ray Charles fan and he’d let Ray fly the plane and even, on occasion, land it! According to the legend, the cats in the band REALLY didn’t like it when Ray flew the plane, though they apparently didn’t know when Ray had landed it too. When Jamie Foxx in Ray came out, I looked to see if they’d validate the “pilot Ray” legend, but unfortunately they didn’t: They showed Ray his crew flying in his private jet, but they didn’t show him actually flying it.
So was it true? Were the legends about Ray Charles’ piloting his private jet true?
Once again this Internet thingee comes in handy: According to Mr. Ray Charles himself the legends were indeed true! Here, in fact, are Ray’s own words on the subject (reported way back in 1997):
Ray Charles doesn’t suggest other blind people try it, but he has driven a car, a motorcycle and, in a jam, could land an airplane.
“I done all kinds of nutty things,” Charles told U.S. News and World Reports in an interview for editions that go on sale Monday. “I don’t recommend it because I don’t want other blind people to say if Ray Charles did it, I can do it, because I don’t want to cause anybody to get themselves killed.“The singer said he also once rode a motorcycle - “I know if I could see, I’d have me a Harley for sure” - on the old Mike Douglas television show in Philadelphia. The show blocked off a street for him.
“I know how to fly an airplane, too. I always had an attitude that anything that can kill me I want to know about,” the 66-year-old Charles said.
Yeah! Alright! Ray Charles indeed not only flew a plane, he could land one too!
Below, Ray Charles live in São Paulo, 1963