Charles always sounded like no one else. When he played or sang just a few notes, you would immediately recognize his distinctive sound, that unique blending of gospel and blues. As he explains in the interview, his style was a direct reflection of who he was. “I can’t help what I sound like,” he says. “What I sound like is what I am, you know? I cannot be anything other than what I am.”
Blank on Blank is a project that brings lost interviews with famous cultural figures back to life. The Charles video is the 12th episode in Blank on Blank’s ongoing series with PBS Digital Studios. The audio of Charles is from the Joe Smith Collection at the Library of Congress. Smith is a former record company executive who recorded over 200 interviews with music industry icons for his book Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music. He talked with Charles on June 3, 1987, when the musician was 56 years old. You can hear the complete, unedited interview at the Library of Congress Web site.
In the interview, Charles says that being true to himself was a night-by-night thing. “I don’t sing ‘Georgia’ like the record. I sing it true,” he says. “I sing what I sing true. Each night I sing it the way I feel that night.” For an example of Charles being true to himself, here he is performing “Georgia On My Mind” on the Dick Cavett Show on September 18, 1972: