Ray, a 2004 American biographical musical drama, chronicles three decades in the life of the legendary rhythm and blues musician, Ray Charles. The film, produced independently, was co-directed and co-produced by Taylor Hackford. The screenplay, penned by James L. White based on a story by Hackford and White, delves into the remarkable journey of Ray Charles.
Jamie Foxx takes on the titular role, supported by an ensemble cast including Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff, and Regina King. Released on October 29, 2004, by Universal Pictures, the film garnered positive reviews from critics, particularly applauding Foxx’s outstanding performance. Additionally, it achieved notable commercial success, grossing $124.7 million worldwide while operating within a $40 million production budget.
Ray Charles Robinson, raised in poverty in Florida by his mother, Aretha, begins his musical journey at a young age, learning to play the piano. His life takes a tragic turn when his younger brother, George, accidentally drowns in their mother’s washbasin, leaving Ray blind by the age of seven. Aretha, determined to instill independence in him, sends him to a school for the deaf and blind.
In 1946, Ray becomes a member of a white country band and conceals his damaged eyes behind sunglasses. After two years, he heads to Seattle and joins a nightclub band, where he faces exploitation by the club’s owner who controls his finances and demands sexual favors. Ray eventually breaks free, signs his record deal, and hits the road as “Ray Charles” on the Chitlin’ Circuit, where he encounters heroin.
His talent catches the attention of Ahmet Ertegun from Atlantic Records, leading to his first hit with Ertegun’s song “Mess Around.” While in Houston, Ray falls in love with Della Bea, a preacher’s daughter. Despite opposition to his fusion of gospel and music, he marries Della and continues to rise to fame with hits like “I Got a Woman” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So.
- Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles Robinson
- C. J. Sanders as Young Ray Charles Robinson
- Kerry Washington as Della Bea Robinson
- Clifton Powell as Jeff Brown
- Aunjanue Ellis as Mary Ann Fisher
- Harry Lennix as Joe Adams
- Terrence Howard as Gossie McKee
- Larenz Tate as Quincy Jones
- Bokeem Woodbine as Fathead Newman
- Sharon Warren as Aretha Robinson
- Curtis Armstrong as Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records
- Richard Schiff as Jerry Wexler
- Wendell Pierce as Wilbur Brassfield, manager
- Chris Thomas King as Lowell Fulson
- David Krumholtz as Milt Shaw
- Kurt Fuller as Sam Clark of ABC Records
- Warwick Davis as Oberon
- Patrick Bauchau as Dr. Hacker
- Robert Wisdom as Jack Lauderdale of Swing Time Records
- Denise Dowse as Marlene Andre
- Regina King as Margie Hendricks
- Rick Gomez as Tom Dowd
- Rhett J Smith as Lounge owner/What I Say
The movie’s funding was entirely provided by Philip Anschutz through his company, Bristol Bay Productions. Taylor Hackford mentioned in a DVD bonus feature that it took 15 years to bring the film to fruition, specifically in terms of securing the necessary financing, as he later clarified in the liner notes of the soundtrack album. The film was created with a budget of $40 million.
Ray Charles received a Braille version of the original script and raised objections to two aspects: a scene depicting him reluctantly taking up the piano and another scene implying that he had taught his mistress and lead “Raelette” Margie Hendricks how to use heroin.
Although Denzel Washington was offered the lead role, he declined the opportunity. As noted in the DVD commentary, Jamie Foxx does not sing as Ray Charles, except for cover versions that Charles performed in his earlier career. Subsequently, Kanye West and Ludacris collaborated with Foxx, featuring him as Charles in their songs “Gold Digger” and “Georgia,” respectively.
Ray made its theatrical debut on October 29, 2004, and proved to be a blockbuster, raking in $75 million in the United States and an extra $50 million in international markets. This impressive performance resulted in a global box office tally of $125 million.