Willie Nelson & Ray Charles Sing a Moving Duet “Seven Spanish Angels”: A Beautiful Bridge That Crosses Musical & Racial Divides

Hav­ing grown up in Geor­gia sur­round­ed by blues, gospel, and coun­try music—and hav­ing stud­ied the clas­si­cal com­posers when he was learn­ing piano—Ray Charles was bound to become a poly­math of musi­cal gen­res. He is often cred­it­ed with cre­at­ing soul music, but a less remem­bered but equal­ly impor­tant part of his career was record­ing one of the first major crossover records, 1962’s Mod­ern Sounds in Coun­try and West­ern Music. The record execs at ABC-Para­mount under­stand­ably thought it would be career sui­cide, but Charles, who had a con­tract that gave him cre­ative con­trol (and own­er­ship of his mas­ter tapes), insist­ed. It went on to be both a com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal suc­cess, cre­at­ing racial and genre bridges dur­ing the Civ­il Rights Move­ment.

So the above video of Willie Nel­son per­form­ing a duet with Charles was not the odd­i­ty that it may first seem. The two record­ed “Sev­en Span­ish Angels” for the former’s Half Nel­son album of duets, and the sin­gle would go on to be the most suc­cess­ful of Charles’ coun­try releas­es, reach­ing the top of the coun­try charts in 1985.

The song has become a favorite coun­try cov­er, and judg­ing by the YouTube com­ments is a favorite at funer­als, see­ing that it’s a tale of an out­law cou­ple pledg­ing their love and going out shootin’. (That is, it’s good for hon­or­ing devot­ed cou­ples, not for crim­i­nal par­ents. But we’re not here to judge.)

The 1984 TV spe­cial from which this excerpt came was filmed at the Austin Opry House, and fea­tured Charles on five more songs with Nel­son, includ­ing “Geor­gia on My Mind” and “I Can’t Stop Lov­ing You.”

And although he didn’t write “Geor­gia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael did), Charles’ name is syn­ony­mous with the well-loved soul num­ber. That being said, Willie Nelson’s cov­er of the song reached high­er in the charts in 1978, a kind of thank you to Charles for his coun­try work.

After this 1984 video, the two would duet nine years lat­er for Willie Nelson’s 60th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion where they once again sang “Sev­en Span­ish Angels,” a tes­ta­ment to their long friend­ship.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Willie Nel­son and His Famous Gui­tar: The Tale of Trig­ger: Watch the Short Film Nar­rat­ed by Woody Har­rel­son

Willie Nelson–Young, Clean-Shaven & Wear­ing a Suit–Sings Ear­ly Hits at the Grand Ole Opry (1962)

Ani­mat­ed Inter­view: The Great Ray Charles on Being Him­self and Singing True

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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