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Uncovering Ray
Like most people, director Taylor Hackford first encountered Ray Charles through the fervid emotion of the man's music. In the 1950s, Hackford recalls hearing "I've Got a Woman" for the first time and immediately being hooked by the soulful sound. "From the minute I first heard Ray Charles sing, I knew there was an extraordinary fire there," says Hackford, "and I followed his career from then on."

As Hackford watched Ray Charles develop and grow into one of America's essential musical voices, he also witnessed the culture around Ray shift and explode. "It became clear that Ray was doing something truly groundbreaking that was having a real effect on mainstream American society. So many artists were influenced by Ray Charles: from Elvis Presley and BB King to Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones, and on to current stars such as Outkast, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones and Justin Timberlake. His place in the pantheon of culture is monumental," notes Hackford.

Decades later, in the 1980s, Hackford was himself known not only as an accomplished director of such films as An Officer and a Gentleman, but as a filmmaker with a unique passion for the history of American music. He began his career with the musical The Idolmaker, and he went on to direct the acclaimed documentary Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n' Roll and produce the Ritchie Valens story, La Bamba, which became one of the first popular bios of an early rock-era legend.

Now, Hackford wanted to make a film about the man whose career had been inspiring him for so many years. It wasn't just Ray Charles' music that moved Hackford. It was also learning of the rags-to-riches story that lay behind Ray's success-a story filled with tragedy, adversity, prejudice and addiction, as well as genius, love, beauty and ultimately, the will to overcome. Hackford and his long-time producing partner Stuart Benjamin saw it as a deeply American story.

Says Hackford: "To really understand Ray Charles, the music is important, but there is so much more to the man. When I first heard the stories of his life, I thought, ‘My God, I never had any idea.' I did not realize how he came up, how he went blind, how he traveled on a Greyhound bus from Northern Florida to Seattle, how he got off that bus as a blind man on his own, experienced discrimination, addiction and sorrow-and yet found his way to become an incomparable artist, an incredible businessman and an American icon. I thought, ‘This man's story must be told.'"

Benjamin comments, "We had made the Ritchie Valens story, La Bamba, which told the story of this young Latino kid who came from nothing and rose to stardom, if only for that brief moment. Ray's story transcends musical periods and generations-it's the quintessential American success story. Ultimately, what got it made was our strong belief in the project. All the stars eventually came together at the right place and the right time."

Hackford first met Charles in 1987 while trying to secure rights to his life story; their working relationship over the next 15 years left an indelible impression on the filmmaker. "He was a very gracious man yet also very tough," recalls the director. "He was one of the smartest people I've ever met and he was also very, very candid. Of course, he was not an easy person, but nobody that accomplished is easy. Having overcome the monumental obstacles he'd faced in his life, Ray exuded a confidence that can only come from being a self-made man. He was also a perfectionist who demanded total concentration and dedication from others. And it was impossible not to be inspired by him."

Following that first meeting, the filmmakers and Charles developed a bond of trust and soon Hackford and Benjamin were able to acquire the rights to the musician's life. Yet to their surprise, Hackford and Benjamin w

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