We’ve all seen the movie–is it true that the backup girl singers for Ray Charles, the Raeletts, were called that because to be a Raelett, they had to “let Ray” have his way with them?
“That was a funny line, but not exactly true,” Charles said when asked about that story. By his own admission, he had slept with “many, many of the Raeletts” over the years–although not all–but he insisted that he had never strong-armed any of them into bed. “I’d never want to make love to a woman thinking that the only reason she agrees is because I’m her boss,” he said.
Members of his band, however, said that when Charles was spurned by a woman, he could be exceptionally cruel to her, offstage and on. One Raelett who turned down Charles’ advances found herself humiliated onstage; when she hit a bum note, he played the section of the song she had muffed over and over, shouting “Repeat, repeat!” at her, while the audience laughed.
Charles added the Raeletts (originally called the Cookies) to his band in 1957; the call-and-response between him and the girl singers became a trademark element of his sound. “There was suddenly more perfume in the air,” Charles said. That aroma led to Charles romancing many of the Raeletts, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes switching his affections from one to another. The seven other men in his band would also usually be pursuing whichever women Charles had spurned. Charles said he had no “policy against hanky-panky among the girls and boys in the band. How could I, as much as I loved to fuck?” Charles also loved to orchestrate orgies (or as he called them, “parties”). “I don’t like to conclude a day without female companionship,” he confessed.
Charles enjoyed the convenience of being able to sleep with his singers. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “If I was forced to look hard, I’d certainly look.” Charles did have three rules for band romances, though. The music had to come first, hands off the underage girls, and no rough stuff: “I didn’t put up with any fights where a chick might get hurt upside the head. I didn’t want everyone in the band looking scratched or bruised with puffy eyes and swollen jaws. I didn’t want the organization to look raunchy and tattered.”
(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)