NPR logo Romney's 'America The Beautiful' Good Excuse To Recall Ray Charles

Romney's 'America The Beautiful' Good Excuse To Recall Ray Charles

Mitt Romney's singing of "America the Beautiful" at a Florida campaign event Monday proved he can carry a tune if not South Carolina Republicans.

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The gold, if not platinum standard of that patriotic song with words by Katharine Lee Bates has to be Ray Charles'. The late musical icon was such a genius that he actually started his version at the third verse. It was Charles' way of making us hear the so familiar song in an entirely new way.

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Apropos of nothing in particular, the only time I ever saw Charles live was at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in April 2003. It wasn't long after President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq and it was thought the usual entertainment, a big-name comedian, would be inappropriate so Charles entertained the Washington worthies for 45 minutes.

The performance was memorable, in part, for the way many attendees treated Charles like a second-rate lounge singer. People held conversations as they sat, milled about or exited the room. When Charles growls "Can you hear me?" at the 36.22 point in this C-SPAN video, it might have been in response to the audience clatter.

The president and first lady Laura Bush sat politely throughout, however, with the commander in chief nodding his head to the beat.

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