Jamie Foxx, Usher, Mary J., Stevie Pay Tribute At Ray Charles Memorial Concert

Stars unite to sing Charles' biggest hits.

LOS ANGELES— Ray Charles was renowned for crossing genres with his music, so it was fitting that the stars who took part in Friday's "Genius: A Night for Ray Charles" concert came from all over the musical map (click for photos from the red carpet).

Modern-day R&B royalty Usher and Mary J. Blige, soul legend Stevie Wonder, pop legend Elton John, alterna-jazz crooner Jamie Cullum and country chart-topper Reba McEntire were among those who paid tribute to Charles by singing some of his biggest hits (see "Ray Charles Dead At 73").

But the biggest star of the night aside from Charles was the man who plays him in the forthcoming film "Ray." Jamie Foxx hosted the Staples Center event, sang "America the Beautiful" and appeared in the multiple "Ray" previews that kept the crowd entertained in between songs. (The concert, which was taped for a CBS special airing October 22, was a promotional tie-in for the biopic, which opens October 29.)

"I started out in music, and the things he did in music [were inspiring], taking music from gospel and changing it to rhythm and blues and then going into country," Foxx said on the red carpet before the show. "He broke down boundaries. That's why it was a great honor to play him because he really moved us in the right direction. He was the first Puffy, the first Jermaine Dupri. He just connected all of it with music."

 

Photos: Usher, Jamie Foxx, Mary J. At "Genius: A Night for Ray Charles" Concert

Foxx, who was surprised onstage by "Collateral" co-star Tom Cruise, was the grand marshal of the red carpet, arriving last and causing the most stir as he posed for pictures with Kerry Washington, who plays his wife in "Ray." Foxx raced through the press line, but stopped with MTV News long enough to reveal some news about his own upcoming album. "I'm redoing [Charles'] 'I've Got a Woman,'" he said. "It's gonna be real hot!"

Washington, meanwhile, echoed her co-star's words that Charles' influence can be heard in popular music.

"There's all this cool neo-soul out right now, and I think [Charles] is so important because he is the man who invented soul," the actress exclaimed, adding that she was most excited to see Usher's performance.

Mr. Entertainment, who sang what is possibly Charles' greatest hit, "Georgia on My Mind," said the song was special to him not just because he calls Georgia home.

"I had the fortunate opportunity to meet [Charles] and I actually sang 'Georgia on My Mind' for him in Atlanta," Usher said. "His legacy, what he endured as an individual — need I say more? What he's done for black music, black artists, what he stood for, what he represented, crossing every barrier of music, and even as music changed, continuing to keep up. [He was] a legend, truly a legend."

Speaking of legends, Stevie Wonder, who sang "I've Got a Woman" at the event, revealed on the red carpet that he was unaware that Charles was blind until Wonder released his Tribute to Uncle Ray album in 1962, and noticed a braille message for Charles on the album's artwork.

"The thing that encouraged me about him long before I met him was how incredibly [good] his interpretation of various songs was," Wonder said. "He was such a great reader of a lyric. When you heard him sing a song, you were there in that experience."

Jamie Cullum, who treated the crowd to "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," agreed, adding that Charles paved the way for his unique style.

"What Ray taught me as a musician is not being afraid to integrate styles, especially taking jazz into popular music, which is what I'm trying to do," the British singer said. "Ray did that with jazz, soul, R&B, blues, all into one, like a modern-day DJ."

With all the celebrities singing Charles praises, the singer's son, Ray Charles Jr., felt a bit overwhelmed. "The appreciation they're giving him is great, it's truly heartwarming," he said. "And I'm so proud of [the movie]. And I'm proud my father got to see it before he passed away."

Not all the admiration was reserved for Charles, however. Mary J. Blige, who'd just caught an early screening of "Ray," was blown away by the star.

"I have to big Jamie Foxx up," said Blige, who sang "Come Rain or Come Shine" and joined Elton John for "Night Time (Is the Right Time)" at the concert. "He did his thing. He's going to be nominated [for an award for his performance], and he has to get it. I kid you not: I didn't know it was Jamie until he took his glasses off at the end."