By Jacqueline Monahan
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September 23rd would have been Ray Charles’ 84th birthday, and although the iconic singer has been gone for ten years, his spirit, as embodied by his music, was resurrected by a talented host of award winning singers and musicians in a lively show full of celebration and tribute.

Georgia On My Mind Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles 59612
Ray Charles postage stamp
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Georgia On My Mind Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles 59607
Clint Holmes with Take 6
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Before the show even begins you hear his recorded voice, smooth as raw honey, before the musicians take their place.

The Venetian Theater, once home of The Phantom is a sumptuous red velvet venue for the show, with its large chandelier, gold trim and faux opera boxes.  The stage, however, has been transformed to highlight the man in bow tie and Ray-Bans. Surrounded by a large, circular arch lit up in light blue, the back wall is covered by a large video screen portraying the larger-than-life artist at his piano, in mid-song, and usually laughing in a great open-mouthed roar of joy.

The high-energy talents of Emmy award-winner Clint Holmes, 10-time GRAMMY award-winning vocal group TAKE 6, six-time GRAMMY nominee and DownBeat artist of the year Nnenna Freelon, and Stella Gospel Award and GRAMMY award-winning saxophone star Kirk Whalum, at times solo, at times together or paired, take the audience through some of Charles’ most memorable songs, with versions of  a very unique Eleanor Rigby, to the oh-so-cool What’d I Say, to the iconic titular ballad that the state of Georgia adopted as its official (old sweet) song.

Las Vegas favorite Clint Holmes is the glue in this musical mosaic, opening the show with the Ray Charles/Quincy Jones collaboration, Let the Good Times Roll written on the day it was first performed.  Sax master Kirk Whalum does indeed wail on I Got A Woman to Holmes’ energetic performance.

Clint Holmes and Kirk Whalum Georgia On My Mind Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles 59566
Clint Holmes and Kirk Whalum
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Clint Holmes Georgia On My Mind Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles 59573
Clint Holmes
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Three lovely ladies in peach silk help Holmes plead through Hit The Road Jack, while at least 35 pinpoint spotlights illuminate his sweet, mellow Come Live With Me (which Charles sang with the Count Basie Orchestra).

The vocal instruments of Take 6 on Hallelujah I Love Her So render the Las Vegas All-Star Big Band, under the direction of pianist and conductor, David Loeb, idle for a while, as the sextet create each note with throat and larynx and cords and follow THAT with Tony Joe White’s Rainy Night in Georgia.

Ray Charles may not have written all of his hits, but he surely made them his own, blending Country, Blues, Jazz and R&B until it was just simply, Charles.

The show also introduces audiences to the Las Vegas Mass Choir, under the direction of James R. Smith and Edie Aikels.  Yes, they wear robes and sing accompanying praises to songs like I Can’t Stop Loving You (along with Take 6 and Holmes) and What’d I Say (Whalum joins the party).

Holmes croons Oh What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma, before introducing Nnenna Freelon for a Deed I Do Duet, followed by Baby It’s Cold Outside (which Charles recorded with Betty Carter).

The pretty-in-pink Freelon did a sexy rendition of Gershwin’s How Long Has This Been Going On, before Holmes purred forth a mellow I’m Gonna Love You, complete with a torchy Whalum sax solo.

Georgia On My Mind Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles 59625Nnenna Freelon with Clint Holmes
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Take 6 Georgia On My Mind Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles 59583
Take 6
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Take 6 Georgia On My Mind Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles 59601
Take 6
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Then Take 6 took over with a surprising rendition of Alexander’s Ragtime Band, a surprise to your humble correspondent, along with Look What They’ve Done To My Song, in which every member of the show took part.

Lead by Holmes, the concert ended with…Georgia On My Mind, adopted as the official song of the state of Georgia.  Joined by all of the performers and musicians (on a very crowded stage) the finale brought the house to its feet in appreciation of the talent, the tribute, and the man being honored, ten years after his death but immortal nonetheless.

Clint Holmes’ passion, Nnenna Freelon’s pure, elegant vocal range, and Kirk Whalum’s sax sophistication give the songs variety and energy.  Take 6 makes them memorable in ways you don’t expect.  The Las Vegas Mass Choir makes you want to say, Amen, while The Las Vegas All-Star Big Band provides instruments in brass, string, (drum) skin and ivory.

Though it all the image of Ray Charles hovers above the stage still smiling.  The man who was just awarded a Forever stamp has left his own stamp on American music forever.

It’s just an old, sweet song, after all.

GEORGIA ON MY MIND: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles is produced and directed by award-winning music producer Larry Rosen and is part of his JAZZ ROOTS Concert Series. The current production at The Venetian Theatre is presented by producer Larry Rosen and entertainment executive/producer Peter Primont through GOMM Productions, LLC.  
With a six-week run until October 29, and for added spice, The Venetian Las Vegas is offering anyone named Georgia one complimentary ticket to see the show.  Sounds peachy.

Press conference at the Venetian Theater announcing the show back in July 27, 2014

Sneak peek performance from the press conference in July.


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