Ray Charles' Argument Against Cultural Appropriation Is Still Relevant

Ray Charles
Leslie Taylor-Grover
September 24, 2021

Ray Charles’ interview went left when a white reporter made a crucial mistake – and Charles’ response would go down as one of the best reads in music history. 

The reporter had the nerve to try to bait Charles into making a controversial statement. While asking Charles a question, he had nerve enough to say that Elvis – the King of stealing Black folks’ music – was not only talented but EXCEPTIONALLY talented! Charles went all the way off!

"I know too many artists that are far greater than Elvis,” he bluntly responded. “I think he came around at the right time … the girls could swoon over him. Nat [King] Cole got in trouble in Alabama when girls swooned over him.” But this music legend wasn’t finished.

“He was doing the Willie Mae Thornton jailhouse rock. That’s Black music!” Charles continued, referring to the Black woman whose original 1953 “Hound Dog” record hit #1 and stayed there for seven weeks. That was three years before Presley’s debut.

Whether it’s our music, hairstyles, slang, or viral dance sensations, it’s clear that popular culture continues to thrive off of plagiarizing, culturally appropriating, and discounting Black art. But just because it happens frequently doesn’t mean we should keep quiet about it! Say it loud and fearlessly just like Ray Charles did: “That’s Black music!”

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