Still loving Ray Charles 

Ray Charles was still making great music when he died almost three years ago. Songs he recorded more than half a century ago still suit the ear today. Many of those songs, from “Georgia on My Mind” to “Hit the Road, Jack,” were pulled together for “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a smash hit musical on London’s West End that is now touring the U.S.

The tour visits Little Rock and Robinson Center Music Hall next week with three shows starting Tuesday, March 6, at 7:30 p.m.

Unlike many of today’s newer musicals, which have taken the music of such acts as ABBA, Billy Joel and the Beatles and stuck a plot around them, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” focuses simply on Ray Charles’ music.

Nedgra (pronounced nee-dra) Culp, a native of Springfield, Mo., is one of six singers who make up the vocal ensemble that sings Ray’s classics. Culp and two other female singers are the Raylettes.

“I listened to Ray a little bit, but not as much as Aretha Franklin and singers like that,” Culp said. “Now that I’m in the show, though, I’m paying more attention to him and his background in music. He sang everything from gospel to blues and R&B. He did some of the Beatles music, the classics, some big band. So there is such a wide range in his music.”

The Ray Charles story is told through his music, beginning with the 1950s and leading up to the duets, which he recorded with some of the biggest names in contemporary music, just before his death.

Terrence Forsythe, Chris Morrell and Mike Davis handle the male parts. Culp is joined by Regi Brown and Sheri Watson as the Raylettes.

Culp is the baby among six children — five girls and a boy. “They’re all singers, but I’m the only one who does it for a living,” she said. “My father sang professionally for the Ozark Jubilee. It’s just kind of in my blood.”

Culp attended Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, Mo. Her big break — “THE big break,” she says — came when she landed a spot on Wayne Newton’s original show in nearby Branson, working there and in Las Vegas. “He’s a gentleman, and very easy to work for,” Culp said of Newton. Besides Arethra Frankin’s music, she says she was inspired by Barbra Streisand, Natalie Cole, June Christy and the scat singing of Ella Fitzgerald, and she says she appreciates the recording acts of the 1950s. “Not slamming anyone, but back then you did it right or it didn’t work. They didn’t have any way to clean it up.”

She says the crowd for “I Can’t Stop Loving You” will appreciate the audience participation. “It really moves, and when it takes off, the dancing is fantastic, the musicians are wonderful and it’s a big treat. It’s a party for two hours. Get ready to put on your dancing shoes.”

Tickets range from $14 to $44 through Celebrity Attractions (244-8800) or through Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com, 975-7575).



Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Jim Harris

  • Less Cowbell: Foghat and Blue Oyster Cult at Magic Springs

    A dozen years or so separated visits to the Timberwood Amphitheater for me and my son. But one thought was the same, and at the same time reminded me that a dozen years of watching your kid grow up flies by like a flash. That thought: Man, I wish Little Rock had an outdoor music site like this.
    • Jul 20, 2018
  • Travs return

    And much more.
    • Apr 5, 2018
  • More »

Latest in Jim Harris

  • What a great, fast eight years

    Eight years. I’ve really been “at the job” of newspapers for much longer, it just focused on entertainment during these past eight years. Starting next week, it will focus on sports. Again. Where I started eons ago.
    • May 4, 2007
  • Mickelson goes by the numbers

    It's all in the short game, Phil Mickelson says s at Alotian.
    • Apr 26, 2007
  • Back to what I really love

    Where was I, the sports lover, the guy who couldn’t wait for Dickey-Stephens to open, a few of you may ask? I was checking out one of my other loves: a local, original music show at Juanita’s that the University of Central Arkansas Honors College had pull
    • Apr 23, 2007
  • More »

Most Viewed


© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation