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RAY

Managers & Musicians
Ray Charles was surrounded by numerous talented and ambitious people who helped to bring his genius to the fore, and in the making of Ray, this required assembling a diverse cast of charismatic actors. Among the list of Ray's most important friends and associates were two men who served as his managers: his friend Jeff Brown, played by renowned character actor Clifton Powell, who became his road manager on the Chitlin Circuit and saw him through his early success; and the man who would controversially replace Brown, the suave Joe Adams, who became Ray Charles' manager for the next 40-some years and is played by frequent Spike Lee collaborator Harry Lennix.

For Taylor Hackford, snaring Clifton Powell to play Jeff Brown was a key casting coup. "Clifton Powell is a fabulous actor," he notes, "and he really embodies this character. Through Clifton's performance you get a real sense of these two guys who are just starting out in a music business that was often very unfair. Jeff is a witness to how many people underestimated Ray Charles' talent, intelligence and ambition in those early days."

To play Joe Adams, whose smooth sophistication replaced the old school style of management Ray was used to, Hackford chose Harry Lennix, who remembers seeing Ray Charles play Carnegie Hall when he was in college. "It was one of those magical nights," he recalls. "Unforgettable."

Lennix found the role to be a kind of trip into history, as he met with the real Joe Adams and learned up-close what it was like to be an ambitious African-American in that era. "Joe was kind of a renaissance man," Lennix observes. "He's from Watts, but he has a real debonair quality to him. He was an actor in the ‘50s who traded roles with Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte; he was a Tuskegee airman; he was the first black DJ to be broadcast from coast to coast. He's just a fascinating guy."

Also among the fascinating real-life characters portrayed in Ray are the legendary Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, the upstart indie which became the premiere Rhythm and Blues label in the ‘50s and the nation's leading Soul label in the ‘60s. Ertegun, a Turkish immigrant, not only helped to bring Ray Charles to the mainstream but was involved in the early success of Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, The Drifters and The Coasters. Later, he would helm Atlantic in the ‘60s and ‘70s as the company oversaw acts ranging from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin. To play him, the filmmakers chose character actor Curtis Armstrong, who has himself produced several CD reissues of Harry Nilsson's work and who was also forced to shave his thick, black hair to embody the balding Ertegun.

Once Armstrong began to learn about Ertegun's past, it all seemed worth it to play this legend of modern recording history. "The more I heard about him, the more intrigued I became," says Armstrong. "Ahmet was a hard-headed, ruthless businessman, but he was also a talented music man. The relationship he developed with Ray was really beautiful because Ahmet was very much like a mentor to him. He saw that spark in Ray and, perhaps most important of all, he gave him the freedom to really let go and discover what was inside him. He wasn't afraid to label Ray a genius, because that's what he was. Even after Ray went to ABC, Ahmet and Ray remained good friends, because there was too much affection and respect between them."

Jerry Wexler joined Atlantic in 1953 as one of the industry's first name producers. In addition to Ray Charles, he worked with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket, LaVern Baker, Dr. John, Dusty Springfield and Bob Dylan, among others. In the role of Wexler, Richard Schiff, best known to audiences as Toby Ziegler on The West Wing, hoped to captur

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