This performer coming to The Zeiterion on Feb. 5 will have Ray Charles on his mind

·3 min read

NEW BEDFORD — There’s no better critical review of Kenneth Brawner’s “Ray On My Mind” than the one he received in a theater in Georgia.

“I thought,” Brawner heard a woman in the audience exclaim, “he was dead!”

"He" would be musical legend Ray Charles. Who vocalist and pianist Kenneth Brawner portrays in song and story in the touring Ray Charles story he created and stars in, though he’s hardly alone onstage.

“Ray On My Mind,” coming to the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Feb. 5, arrives with Brawner in the title role accompanied by an 11-piece band, back-up singers dubbed the Raelettes, and both the classic songs as well as the important stories that combined to create the Ray Charles who became an American icon.

Kenneth Brawner has been performing Charles in “Ray On My Mind” since 2013. Since the musical extravaganza’s inception, he’s not only traveled the country with the show but brought together some of the most accomplished musicians performing today to share the stage with him.

Kenneth Brawner will be performing in “Ray On My Mind” Feb. 5 at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford.
Kenneth Brawner will be performing in “Ray On My Mind” Feb. 5 at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford.

Two of the musicians actually played with Ray Charles himself before his death in 2004. And, all of them share a connection to the amazing musical heritage which “Ray On My MInd” explores through beloved hit songs from “What I’d Say” to “Georgia on My Mind.”

With a plethora of songs ranging from blues to gospel to jazz to country, it’s hard for Brawner to identify a favorite, but he says that he finds audiences seem to find his performance of “You Don't Know Me” especially poignant.

“I look out and see people drowning in tears,” he says. A reaction no doubt experienced by Ray Charles himself after he made the tune one of his signature songs.

Kenneth Brawner has been performing Charles in “Ray On My Mind” for 13 years.
Kenneth Brawner has been performing Charles in “Ray On My Mind” for 13 years.

“Ray On My Mind” weaves the music with monologues depicting how, exactly, gospel, blues, jazz, and country influenced Ray’s style — a unique blend that would define Charles as a legend in the history of music in 20th century America.

The stories also reflect the country’s social history, partially told through the epic battle Ray Charles waged with drug dependency, followed by his triumphant return home to the place of his birth — Georgia — as a superstar.

It’s especially satisfying, then, that in Georgia overheard that gratifying response to his own work portraying Ray Charles, the man as well as the musician. The sentiment has been echoed since, too.

“It was especially nice to have other members of Ray’s band, who caught the show in South Carolina, tell me how authentic they thought it was,” says Brawner. His own band now, including the two who performed with Charles, are an accomplished group themselves and do justice to the Ray Charles sound due to their diverse on-stage experience.

Members of the orchestra have been heard on Broadway, Off-Broadway, film, and television. They have performed all over the world and recorded with a range of other influential musical giants - performers such as Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Darius Rucker, Jennifer Hudson and Rihanna, to name but a select few. And, with renowned musical entities like Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra.

Bringing the show to audiences around the country to venues like the Zeiterion has been a blessing these past years, says Kenny Brawner. Yet, there’s still one city left to play - that almost happened but unfortunately got postponed for another date.

That’s Albany, Georgia - the birthplace of the man who would inspire “Ray On My Mind,” and enrich an entire nation with his musical soul.

So, when Kenneth Brawner presents Ray Charles to the audience at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center this February, you know indeed that he will have Georgia on his mind, too.

Tickets to “Ray On My Mind,” starring Kenneth Brawner and his 11-piece orchestra, with the Raelettes, are $29, $35 and $45 and can be purchased at zeiterion.org/events. The show takes place at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, New Bedford, on Saturday, Feb. 5 beginning at 8 p.m.

This story by Steven Froias was provided by the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.

This article originally appeared on The Herald News: “Ray On My Mind,” coming to the Zeiterion on Saturday, February 5