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Dancing on Air

Ray Charles Sits At A Piano. Other People Playing Instruments Sit Behind Him

Follow along as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary with 50 Years of Great Stories! These stories of impact are drawn from the past and present, told by our friends and neighbors to reflect the power of authentic connections and experiences.

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Dancing on Air

Many music legends have walked through the Norton Center halls, but when Ray Charles arrived, he didn’t walk – he danced.

Newspaper clipping that says "Wanted to buy Ray Charles concert tickets, Oct. 18."

A full 36 days before Ray Charles’ October 18, 1985 performance, the Norton Center for the Arts officially sold out of tickets. Fans left hanging turned to the Advocate-Messenger classifieds in hopes of scoring an extra seat to the once-in-a-lifetime Danville show.

The moment Charles finally stepped onto the Newlin Hall stage over a month later, it was clear why tickets were hard to come by. The pure energy filling the Norton Center during the one-hour performance came straight from the man pouring his soul through the microphone and ivory keys. His stage presence was infectious, his exuberance palpable to everyone in the audience. 

Ray Charles smiling over a crowd of people.Advocate-Messenger Staff Writer and long-time Norton Center subscriber Sallie Bright described Charles as “constantly moving and talkative…At times, he seemed to be dancing on air…[he] warmed the audience with his sheer enthusiasm, his good humor.”

The Raelettes, Charles’ backing girl band, joined him on stage for the final few songs. The show concluded with Charles on the organ, crooning out the famous lines of his hit “What’d I Say” as the audience went wild.

Charles’ charisma and wit didn’t dissipate after he sang his last note, as he jokingly scolded his manager while being led off the Newlin stage: “Hey, don’t run me into the wall!” Upon entering the Norton Center Green Room for interviews, he bantered with everyone, asking if there was, indeed, anything green in the room. “Most green rooms don’t really have anything green in ‘em,” he noted before he launched eagerly into answering questions.

His parting words to reporters were ones of poetic prophecy: “I’m gonna work in music ‘till I die. I’m gonna make a phone call upstairs to the good Lord and see if he’ll let me keep my health. I’ll be like Count Basie or Duke Ellington: I’ll die with it.”

This concert was more than an example of a famous musician visiting a small Kentucky town. It’s a story of the Danville community bearing witness to a performer who was so truly in love with his craft, Charles proudly boasted to Danville reporters that he’d play for free, as long as people would hear and feel his music.

Ray Charles sitting and smiling
Ray Charles in the Norton Center Green Room, October 18, 1985. Photo by Daniel Price for the Advocate-Messenger.


In memory of Ray Charles, 1930-2004.

Photo Gallery

Two People Sitting On The Ground Cutting Something Out
Person On A Ladder
Stage With A Piano And Chairs


Bright, Sallie. “Ray Charles is still enthusiastic about music after 40 years on stage.” The Advocate-Messenger (formerly The Kentucky Advocate), Danville, Kentucky, 20 October 1985.

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