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Song Swarm: Georgia On My Mind

October 12th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Georgia On My Mind is most commonly associated with Ray Charles. It appears on every tribute album to Ray, and Willie Nelson (who recorded the song in 1978) sang it at his funeral. But Georgia was a standard long before Ray Charles made it his own.

It was written by Hoagy Carmichael and lyricist Stuart Gorrell in 1930. The story goes that the Georgia of the title was originally intended to refer to Hoagy’s sister, but realising that Gorell’s words could apply also to the southern US state, the writers were happy to keep things ambiguous. The plan worked: the song was a massive hit especially in the South, and since 1979 it has been the state song of Georgia (a better choice than the tourist-unfriendly Rainy Night In Georgia, the loser-comes-home Midnight Train To Georgia, or the infrastructure-deficient The Lights Went Out In Georgia). When Georgia adopted the song, two years before Hoagy’s death, it was Ray Charles who performed it at ceremony in Atlanta

Carmichael’s version features jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. Beiderbecke, a huge star at the time, died a few months later at 28, but Carmichael went on to enjoy a long career, and is perhaps even better known for Stardust and Heart And Soul than he is for Georgia, which he nonetheless re-recorded a few times. Frankie Trumbauer (who according to Carmichael’s 1965 memoirs suggested that he write a song about the southern state, thereby contradicting the much better story above) scored a hit with the song in 1931, as did Mildred Bailey.

Ray Charles, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Florida, recorded his version in 1960, reportedly at the advice of his driver who had heard Ray sing it to himself in the car. It was an instant hit, topping the US charts. The song did not do as well in Britain where it troubled the charts only once when Ray Charles’ version reached the undizzying heights of #24.

The present song swarm provides just a cross-section of covers. There obviously are the early vocal versions (Gene Krupa’s take with Anita O’Day on the vocals is the best of those, though some might prefer Billie Holiday’s), instrumental jazz (very different versions by Artie Shaw, Django Reinhardt, Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, and Grover Washington Jr with Eric Gale on guitar), country (Brenda Lee – with a spoken bit – Jerry Reed, Ronnie Sullivan, Jerry Lee Lewis), soul (The Manhattans), rock (The Uniques), folk (Tim Hardin, Anya Marina), those versions that built on Ray Charles’ template (Righteous Brothers, Tom Jones, Stevie Winwood, Maceo Parker, whose version which features James Brown’s old saxophonist himself on great vocals), and even a cappella (The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus from Yale University). And there is a rather odd live take by Led Zeppelin from 1973.

Forced to choose a favourite, other than Ray’s, I’d be torn between Lou Rawls’ jazzy 1963 take  and that by the late South African musician Robbie Jansen. The latter choice might be clouded by having heard Jansen sing it live; the recorded version doesn’t do justice to his live performances of the song.

One version is a medley: New Orleans musician Eddie Snoozer Quinn plays Georgia On My Mind and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, another standard that would become a signature tune for a later act. The song was recorded in 1948 by Snoozer’s friend and long-time collaborator Johnny Wiggs, shortly before Snoozer died of tuberculosis.

So, here are 48 versions of Georgia On My Mind. Which ones do you like best?

TRACKLISTING
1930 Hoagy Carmichael • 1931 Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra • 1931 Louis Armstrong • 1931 Mildred Bailey • 1931 Washboard Rhythm Kings • 1936 Django Reinhardt • 1941 Artie Shaw • 1941 Billie Holiday • 1941 Fats Waller • 1941 Gene Krupa feat Anita O’Day • 1948 Snoozer Quinn & Johnny Wiggs • 1949 Frankie Laine • 1952 Jack Teagarden Orchestra • 1955 Dean Martin • 1958 Danny Guglielmi • 1960 Ray Charles • 1961 Brenda Lee • 1961 Ella Fitzgerald • 1962 Ronnie Sullivan • 1963 Lou Rawls • 1963 Oscar Peterson Trio • 1963 The Righteous Brothers • 1964 Les Double Six • 1965 Matt Monro • 1966 The Uniques • 1969 Jerry Reed • 1970 The Manhattans • 1971 Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer & Boots Randolph • 1971 Tim Hardin • 1972 Grover Washington Jr. • 1972 Mauro Sérgio (Georgia, Meu Amor) • 1973 Led Zeppelin • 1974 Herb Ellis & Joe Pass • 1977 Jerry Lee Lewis • 1978 Mina • 1978 Willie Nelson • 1986 Stanley Jordan • 1993 Shirley Horn • 2000 Robbie Jansen • 2002 V Morrison • 2004 Marc Broussard • 2005 Alicia Keys & Jamie Foxx • 2005 Anya Marina • 2006 Tom Jones • 2007 Maceo Parker • 2008 Eric Clapton & Stevie Winwood • 2009 Hugh Laurie (from House) • 2010 The SOBs

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  1. halfhearteddude
    October 11th, 2011 at 19:57 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Birgit
    October 12th, 2011 at 15:03 | #2

    Thanks !!! – Great timeless song.
    Tim Hardin rules,
    followed by Billie Holiday, Shirley Horn, Van Morrison.

  3. October 17th, 2011 at 11:34 | #3

    Great article. I havn’t heard all that many but will agree with the above comment as I’m a big Tim Hardin fan. So Tim gets my vote.

  4. Joe from Perth Western Australia
    October 18th, 2011 at 11:52 | #4

    Love the Ray Charles version but Gladys Knight has always been my fave, but her version is not here.

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