Ellis Hall believes in the gospel according to Ray Charles



One day when singer Ellis Hall sat down with the late great musician Ray Charles, Charles shared a little philosophy with Hall.

“There’s only two kinds of music,” said Ray to Hall, “Good and bad.”

That philosophy defined Charles’s career, which saw the singer mining everything from R&B to rock and roll to soul to gospel, and even country. The singers eye wasn’t on the genre but quality.

Charles’s philosophy is one that Hall, who was the only artist signed to Charles’s label Crossover Records, agrees with to this day.

Hall pays tribute to Charles among other artists when he joins the Hartford Symphony Orchestra under the stars in Simsbury on July 23 for “A Tribute to Ray Charles, Motown, and Beyond.” (The concert was postponed on July 22 due to a forecast of rain.)

A former singer for Tower of Power, Hall said he grew up listening to everything. He listened to Harry Belafonte, the Hi-Lo’s, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix. And even though today’s music may be highly processed, he said he still hears moments shine through that touch him.

And the key to good music, said Hall, is that feeling.

Although, Charles was already a legend when Ellis and he met in 2001, the pair developed a friendship built on music and experience.

For instance, both shared a similar path to losing their sight, explained Hall. Both had vision when they were younger. Charles lost his at 7. Hall lost his at age 18. They also grew up in the same state. “We spoke about the Georgia clay.” And they often would speak about philosophy.

Hall said what impressed him most about Charles were “the colors within, which just went into the music.”

Charles was the one who suggested that Hall begin touring and performing with symphonies such as evening that’s coming to Simsbury. After Charles’s suggestion, Hall put together a set list and the first show was performed in Nashville.

“It exploded from there,” he said.

The evening with the Hartford Symphony begins with his tribute to Motown, opening up with the Supremes’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” said Hall. The set continues with a taste of Stevie Wonder’s music. Hall also performs some of the tracks he recorded with Tower of Power, when he handled lead vocals for them from 1984 to 1988. The second half of the evening finds Hall putting the spotlight on the music of Ray Charles as well as the music that he performed that got him signed with Charles’s record label.

Hall said the concert is one that will appeal to all ages, anyone from age 1 to 100 will enjoy it.

“Feel the spirit inside,” said Hall of the evening. “When I sing and play, the gates of heaven open.”

And people better prepare to dance and move around, said Ellis. “This is participation to the highest degree,” said Ellis, who promised that audiences will want to sing, clap, and stomp.

When the evening is done, said Hall, fans will look back on the evening as a “soul experience.”

Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Talcott Mountain Music Festival presents, “A Tribute to Ray Charles, Motown, and Beyond” on Saturday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at Simsbury Meadows, Simsbury.

Adult single lawn tickets are $25 at the gate.

For more ticketing information, contact HSO ticket services at (860)987-5900 or visitwww.hartfordsymphony.org.

Gates open at 6 p.m. . In the case of severe weather, this concert will be performed Saturday, July 23 at the same time.


Ellis Paul performs the music of Ray Charles and Motown with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

Ellis Paul performs the music of Ray Charles and Motown with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

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