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I only discovered today that the late and great Ray Charles was a supporter of Israel.
Ray Charles while on concert tour in Israel had the opportunity to spend several hours with the Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. He presented him with the album “Message to the People”. His awareness of racial injustice was not limited to the home front. In the same years he fought the war against racial injustice in the American South, Charles became aware of growing racial injustice abroad, particularly the notorious policy of apartheid in South Africa. Modest to the point of mum about his humanitarian and charitable activities, Ray Charles made an exception for the State of lsrael and world Jewry.
Among the many, the world leader Charles most enjoyed meeting was David Ben-Gurion, with whom he had a conversation of many hours during a concert tour of Israel not long belore Ben-Gurion’s death. The awards among the hundreds he claimed to have touched him the most is the Beverly Hills Lodge of B’nai B’rith’s tribute to its “Man of the Year” in 1976.
“Even though I’m not Jewish,” he explains, “and even though I’m stingy with my bread, Israel is one of the few causes I feel good about supporting. Blacks and Jews are hooked up and bound together by a common history of persecution. If someone besides a black ever sings the real gut bucket blues, it’ll be a Jew. We both know what it’s like to be someone else’s footstool.
Here is some footage from his 1973 tour of Israel, including some of Charles with Ben Gurion.
Update: More about the tour here, including this:
In an interview from July 2004 The Raelettes’ lead singer, Mable John, remembered the situation like this: “My memories were all good but one that struck me the most was our first trip to Israel. It wasn’t just the show but how they treated us and that gave me such a love for Israel. Our flight going into Tel Aviv was five hours late so it looked like we would have to perform in the same clothes we wore on the plane. There were people all around the building and we were supposed to do two shows. We went into a dressing room to freshen up and there were all these people on their knees outside the windows looking at us! Now it wasn’t that they were trying to spy or see us without our clothes on – it was adoration! We finally got on the stage so late that we didn’t do our usual part of the show and we were supposed to do a second show but the people from the first one wouldn’t leave. We thought there was going to be a riot! Well, they let the people from outside in and they sat on and all around the stage – we did one show for two shows’ worth of people in that room!”