The women behind Ray Charles from 1954 – 2005
Article including little interview with Margie, from Los Angeles Sentinel Sep 15, 1960.
Ray ‘discovered’ The Cookies* in 1956, in Philadelphia. That night he went out to a concert by the Lionel Hampton Band. Chuck Willis opened the show, and he was accompanied by the girls. Ray, as he later stated, was immediately hooked on their way of singing. He had already recorded Drown In My Own Tears with Mary Ann Fisher, supported by two other girls, but now he wanted to make this kind of female backing vocals part of his sound, permanently.
He first invited them for a recording session in New York, where they taped Lonely Avenue, I Want To Know and Leave My Woman Alone. In 1958 they were re-baptized as The Raelettes (Raeletts, Raelets, etc.), rejecting the alternative name “The Silver Bells” (see below: sub 1958 and LA Sentinel article from 1960), and started touring with The Genius.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ray put a lot of effort in establishing the girls as an individual act – in the studio, and later also as a performing act. In 1967 and 1968 the featured line-up was: Merry Clayton (lead), Clydie King (contralto), Gwen Berry (alto) and Alex Brown (tenor). After that, the most productive line up was: Mable John, Susaye Greene, Vernita Moss, and Estella Yarbrough.**
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Circa August 1954: Jesse Stone and The Cookies at Atlantic Records: Beulah Robertson, Dorothy Jones, Ethel (Darlene) McCrea. This line-up never worked with Ray.
The Cookies: L-R Beulah Robertson, Ethel (Darlene) McCrea, Dorothy Jones (sometimes dated 1954 or ’57).
The Cookies: L-R Ethel (Darlene) McCrea, Beulah Robertson, Dorothy Jones, recording one of their own records (sometimes also dated 1956).
From Billboard, Feb. 11, 1956.
Publicity photo of Mary Ann Fisher, issued by Shaw Artists (probably from 1957).
Ad for 9 – 1 dance gig by Ray Charles Band at April Showers Ball, Southside Armory, Indianapolis (April 29, 1958); first known ad announcing The Cookies (who had joined the touring group on January 10th). Their stage name “The Raelets” was already used in July 1958 (at Newport), but in promotion materials their old name was used until the spring of 1959.
Photo by Lee Friedlander, dated in 1956, but probably (watch the microphone!) taken – while Margie Hendricks took a solo elsewhere on stage – at this Newport concert: Pat Lyles, Mary Ann Fisher, Gwen Berry.
The critic of the Newport Daily News, in a review of the Ray Charles Sextet’s concert at the Jazz Fest, was [one of?] the first to mention “The Raylettes” [sic!] as Ray’s backing group. The fourth girl was Mary-Ann Fisher.
The Raelettes, prob. early 1959. From left to right: Margie Hendricks, Pat Lyles, Gwen Berry, Darlene McCrea. Photo by James J. Kriegsmann (Collection Joël Dufour).
The Raelettes, from the same shoot. From left to right: Pat Lyles, Margie Hendricks, Gwen Berry, Darlene McCrea. (Collection Joël Dufour).
Ambler Liberty Sporting Club (Montgomery, PA), c. 1959.
Maceo’s, Nashville, c. 1959.
Mambo Club, Wichita, 9 May 1959.
This photo, taken at the Apollo may be from October (2nd to 8th) 1959, and would than also add Ruby Rae Robinson to the list of girls subbing in this period. In this picture from left to right: Pat Lyles, Ruby Rae Roberson, David Newman, Gwen Berry, Bettye Smith (from RRR’s Memoirs, 2007).
The Raelettes, c. 1959. Clockwise from left: Pat Lyles, Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks. (Collection Joël Dufour).
The Raelettes, c. 1959. Top to bottom: Pat Lyles, Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks. (Collection Joël Dufour).
Betty Smith and Margie Hendricks spotted in St. Petersburg on Feb. 12.
Souvenir brochure of the Hitmakers of 1960 tour. Topfoto left, f.l.t.r.: Margie Hendricks, May Saunders, Gwen Berry, Bettye Smith.
Announced as the Raelets, for show at Public Hall Auditorium in Cleveland on June 5, 1960 (clipped from Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 29).
At the Apollo in New York City, between April 22nd and April 28th, 1960. The girls from left to right (best guess:) Pat Lyles?, Margie Hendricks?, Gwen Berry, Darlene McCrea. Photo by William Claxton.
Pacific Ballroom, San Diego, 21 August 1960
The Raelettes after landing on Orly Airport, probably on July 18, 1961; f.l.t.r. Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Pat Lyles, Darlene Mc Crea.
The Raelettes in Antibes, July 1961. F.l.t.r. Darlene, Gwen, Margie, Pat.
Antibes 1961 (from 1962 concert souvenir brochure).
From Jazz Hot, Dec. 1961. Marcus Belgrave stepping forward for a trumpet solo.
The Raelettes at Paris concert in October; from right to left: Pat Lyles, Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Darlene McCrea (collection J.P. Verger).
The Raelettes in Paris; from left to right: Pat Lyles, Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Darlene McCrea (collection J.P. Verger).
Pat Lyles, Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Darlene McCrea (collection J.P. Verger).
At the Palais des Sports in Paris, in October 1961: Pat, Margie, Gwen, Darlene. Photo by Jacques Chenard.
L-R: Pat Lyles, Margie Hendricks, Gwen Berry, Darlene McCrea, from a 1962 souvenir brochure.
Stills from the film Swingin’ Along, released in December 1961.
Stack of Afra TV contracts for Gwen Berry (Jan. 5, 1962 and Aug. 15, 1962), Dorothy Berry (Jan. 5, 1962) and Fritz Basket (Nov. 19, 1963). No TV gigs on these dates are known to me.
From Philadelphia Tribune archives, earliest date on backside 21 April, 1962.
Photo by Jim Marshall, New York, 1962.
Photo by William Claxton, 1962.
At the Capitol Studios in New York, with Gwen Berry. Photo by Howard Morehead.
Concert series at L’Olympia Theater in Paris, in May. The Raelettes: Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks, Pat Lyles, Darlene McCrea.
Prob. shot at the Olympia; f.l.t.r.: Pat Lyles, Margie Hendricks, Gwen Berry, Darlene McRea.
10 June 1962: landed at Arlanda Airport (coming from France), for two gigs at Gröna Lund Amusements Park, Stockholm.
Margie Hendricks, backstage at Ray Charles’ first concert in London (at the Finsbury Park Astoria) on May 12, 1963. Photo by Val Wilmer.
From 1963 UK souvenir brochure; photo probably shot in U.S.
At Orly Airport, with Raelettes, and Sonny Forriest.
Photos by James J. Kringmann of The Raelettes, from a UK souvenir brochure. Margie missed a concert at the London Hammersmith Odeon, in May. Quotes from New Musical Express: “Raelets leader Margie Hendrix missed Charles’ concert at Hammersmith on Tuesday through illness but was able to rejoin the show the following night”. “That wasn’t the real Ray Charles,” said Ray Charles. “With Maggie ill, no one could sing her part. So I had to leave out a lot of the wilder things…”
At Saskatoon Arena, Saskatchewan. Read review here.
Photo probably shot at Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, in late December.
Stills from the film Ballad in Blue (shot in June/July in Dublin, London and Paris). The marquee of the Olympia Theatre has a fictional announcement of a concert on August 5.
Clipping from a 1964 newspaper. F.l.t.r. Gwen Berry, Lillie Fort, Bobbie Pierce, Helen Bryant.
27 July 1964: L-R: Helen Bryant (prob.; seen on back), unidentified Raelette, Bobbie Pierce and Gwen Berry at a concert in Copenhagen. Photo by Jan Persson.
The Raelettes in concert, somewhere in the UK. Licensed by Corbis and Getty, who both date this pic in 1965. Photo prob. by David Redfern.
Ad from Miami Times, Aug. 13, in the period that Ray Charles was kicking his habit, announcing The Raelettes, “formerly with Ray Charles”, at Mr. James Club, Miami.
At Big T.N.T. Show. F.l.t.r. Lillie Fort, Gwen Berry, Fritz Basket, and Marilyn McCoo.
F.l.t.r. Clydie King, Gwen Berry, LilianFort, Merry Clayton, circa 1966.
Rare publicity photo; clockwise, from top: Merry Clayton, Clydie King, Gwen Berry, Lilian Fort.
Publicity photo of The Raelettes. Clockwise, from top: Merry Clayton, Clydie King, Gwen Berry and Lilian Fort. Photos by John E. Reed, Hollywood); licensed by Corbis, who date this shoot erroneously in 1965.
Publicity photo of The Raelettes. From left to right: Lillie Fort, Gwen Berry, Merry Clayton, Clydie King.
L-R: Lilian Fort, Clydie King, Gwen Berry, Merry Clayton.
Gig at women’s prison; read here. F.l.t.r. Ray Charles, Gwen Berry, Merry Clayton and Clydie King.
Hollywood Palace TV show, Los Angeles, on Oct. 8. L-R: Vermettya Royster, Merry Clayton, Gwen Berry, Clydie King.
Photos by Maurice Seymour (Maurice & Seymour Zeldman). Clockwise: Ray Charles, Clydie King, Gwen Berry, Alex Brown, Merry Clayton.
From left to right Alex Brown, Merry Clayton, Ray Charles, Gwen Berry.
L- R: Merry Clayton, Alex Brown, Gwen Berry, Clydie King. Photo by Maurice Seymour.
From a UK Magazine. From left to right: Alex Brown, Merry Clayton, Gwen Berry, Clydie King.
Top to bottom: Clydie King, Merry Clayton, Alex Brown, Gwen Berry. Photo by Maurice Seymour.
Concert at La Salle Pleyel in Paris, on Apr. 18.
Essendon Airport, near Melbourne, on Aug. 16.
Australia tour ’67.
Ad from Charleston Daily Mail, 29 Sep.
Unidentified concert, c 1967.
These photos from the Andy Williams Show are dated March 26, 1968. L-R: Merry Clayton?, Alex Brown?, Gwen berry, Clydie King. Photos by Gerry Null, Getty Images.
At Newport Jazz Fest on July 7. F.l.t.r. Merry Clayton, Alex Brown, Gwen Berry, Clydie King.
At an unidentified venue, f.l.t.r. Alex Brown, Merry Clayton, Gwen Berry, Clydie King. Photo by Bob Hannah, dated April 4, 1968.
At Newport Jazz Festival on July 7. F.l.t.r. Merry Clayton, Alex Brown, Gwen Berry and Clydie King. Photo by David Redfern.
Probably the only surviving photo of the three Raelettes who backed Ray in the late summer of 1968; f.l.t.r. Beverly Lesure (partial), Susaye Greene, Rita Graham. From a 1969 article in Soul Illustrated.
Ray Charles and The Raelettes, performing Eleanor Rigby at the Ed Sullivan Show on Dec. 8.
Documented line-up for 20 September (London) and 8 – 9 October (Paris), L-R: Barbara Nel Terrault, Susaye Greene, Verlyn Flenaugh, Beverly Ann Lesure (photo by David Redfern/Getty).
With Billy Preston, c. 1968.
Susaye Greene (at shooting of German TV film in LA).
At the 2nd Hampton Jazz Fest on June 28, f.l.t.r.: Vernita Moss, Susaye Greene, Mable John, Estella Yarbrough.
Vernita Moss. Photos by Bea Kopp.
From Daily Register, July 3, showing how old line-ups kept on being communicated.
L-R: Mable John, Vernita Moss, Susaye Greene, Estella Yarbrough. First known publication in a UK souvenir brochure from September 1969. so this studio shoot must have happened in the Spring or Summer of 1969.
From the same shoot? L-R: ?Estella Yarbrough, Susaye Greene, Mable John.
This photo by Jan Persson is labeled with “Copenhagen”, and October 5, 1969. It’s probably much older.
L-R: Susaye Greene, Mable John, Estella Yarbrough, Vernita Moss.The single was released in 1970.
Probably from the same shoot. L-R: Vernita Moss, Susaye Greene, Mable John, Estella Yarbrough.
In Mexico City… (from Mable’s website)
Vernita Moss, Susaye Greene, Mable John, Unidentified. Photo: Redfern/Getty.
Concert c 1970, Japan?
Line-up from Newport festival program (Jul. 2).
Musikhalle, Hamburg, Sep. 2.
A concert in c. 1972, L-R: Mable John, Susaye Greene, Vernita Moss, Dorothy Berry, Estella Yarbrough.
The Raelettes, backstage at a concert in Madrid, poss. in ’72.
Carol Burnett Show, aired on Jan. 26; f.l.t.r. Vernita Moss, Susaye Greene, Mable John, Dorothy Berry.
At one of the two other Burnett shows; f.l.t.r. Vernita Moss, Dorothy Berry, Mable John, Susaye Greene, Estella Yarbrough.
1 July 1972 at the Newport Jazz Festival. Photo: Getty Images.
TV contract for Midnight Special; Dorothy Berry, Mable John, Susaye Greene, Vernita Moss, Estella Yarbrough (March 1973).
July 1, Newport Jazz Festival; concert with James Baldwin at Carnegie Hall, New York.
Promotional photo of Ray Charles and The Raelettes (clockwise starting at top [unidentified singer], Mable John, Susaye Greene, ?Denise Jackson), circa September 1973.
Backstage at unidentified venue, possibly Autumn 1973, L-R: Vernita Moss, Dorothy Berry, Mable John, [poss. Denise Jackson], Madelyn Quebec.
October 18, 1973, in Differdange. Photo by Armand Binda.
On October 10th, 1973 at Nancy Jazz Pulsations festival.
L – R: [Unidentified singer], Dorothy Berry, Mable John, Cynthia Scott, Madelyn Quebec (1973 or 1974).
L-R: Vernita Moss, Dorothy Berry, Mable John, Cynthia Scott, ?Madelyn Quebec.
Music is the Message Festival at Fort Gordon, Jun. 20.
YMCA, Auckland, Oct. 10. Photo by Murray Cammick.
From Japan Tour brochure, 1975.
At unidentified concert.
The Raelettes on April 22 in Paris (photo by Jean-Pierre Arniac). Estelle Yarbrough later identified them as (L-R): Madelyn Quebec, Linda Sims, Dorothy Berry, Nika Brooks, herself (but I doubt if the attribution to Nika is correct).
Gwendolyn Joseph, Interview – The Women Behind Ray Charles (Distaff, July 1975).
Line-up on 7 August 1975 (Cher show): L-R: Linda Sims, Dorothy Berry, Estella Yarbrough, Bernice Hullaby, Madelyn Quebec.
Documented line-up November 1975 (Japan): Linda Sims, Dorothy Berry, Estella Yarbrough. Bernice Hullaby, Donna Jones.
Northsea Jazz Festival, The Hague, on Jul. 16. L-R: Donna Jones, Bernice Hullaby, Estella Yarbrough, Dorothy Berry, Linda Sims. Photos: Hans Hendriks.
Quatorze Juillet, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence (Linda Sims @ far right).
Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, prob. on June 17, 1979. Photo by Carl Johnson.
Avis Harrell, Trudy Cohran, Pat Peterson, Madelyn Quebec.
Backstage at ACL, f.l.t.r. Madelyn, Estella, Trudy, Pat, Avis. Photo by Dan Marcus.
Howard Theater, Washington DC, May 16th: f.l.t.r. Madelyn, Estella, Trudy, Pat, Avis. Photo by Milton Williams (Smithsonian).
F.l.t.r. Avis Harrell, Madelyn Quebec, Pat Peterson, Estella Yarbrough, Trudy Cohran.
Ritz, New York, on Jul. 31.
In or around 1980; Madelyn Quebec, Estella Yarbrough, Center, Trudy Cohran, Pat Peterson & Avis Harrell.
In or around 1981; Stella Yarbrough, Ledoria [= Ann?] Johnson, Trudy Cohran, Elaine Woodard, Janice Mitchell.
July 4, at Théâtre St-Denis, Festival International De Jazz De Montréal.
At Sonomo County Fairground on Aug. 8. Photos by Richard Pechner.
Flint Center, Cupertino, on Dec. 1.
Line-up on July 17, 1985, in Nîmes. Photo by Jacques Merle.
Concert in Portland (the photo could also be from ’87).
1st Izmir Festival at Ephesus Great Theatre (Jul. 7).
Ft. in Moonlighting (September).
Executive Inn, Paducah (Jun. 17).
Montreal Jazz Festival, Place des Arts (Jun. 30).
Publicity photo by Michael Collopy, c. 1990.
Backstage, c. 1991; f.l.t.r. Wendy Smith, Estella Yarbrough, Paula Moye, Trudy Cohran.
Pepsi’s Paylettes: Melaini Paul, Fretchen Palmer, Darlene Dillinger (from Jet, May 18, 1992).
Home made artwork by Tracey Whitney (r), here with Paula Moye (l).
Still (f.l.t.r. Michelle, Trudy, Elaine, Angie) from the TV recording of the concert in Leverkusen on November 19, while Estella is taking her solo..
Possibly shot in Copenhagen.
Montreux Jazz Festival (Jul. 19); L-R: Estella Yarbrough, Katrina Harper Cooke, Kathy Mackey, Karen Evans, Tonette McKinney.
Probably in Italy, (July?) 1997. Photo by Luigi Barba.
Backstage at Showroom Casino, The Orleans Hotel, Las Vegas (Sep. 29 – Oct. 3).
Montreal Jazz Festival at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Bell Centre, Montreal.
Raelettes having fun in Lucca, Italy. Sitting: Renée Georges, Karen Evans, Tangy Biggers, Tonette McKinney; standing: Estelle Yarbrough (Jul. 18).
F.l.t.r.: Ernest Collins, LaTonya Hicks-Jefferson, Ray Charles, Brianna Perry-Tucker.
Pre-game performance at Super Bowl XXXV, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa (Jan. 28).
Millennium Theatre, Brooklyn (May 1).
At Mohegun Casino. F.l.t.r.: Katrina Harper, Estella Yarbrough, Renée Collins Georges, Karen Evans and Tonette McKinney (Jun. 22).
At opening ceremonies of the Empire State Games at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York; emceed by Bob Costas (Jul. 31).
The Raelettes, backstage with a fan, at a Casino hotel in Atlantic City (from August 2002?).
At Beacon Theatre in New York (Aug. 7).
Late November in Nortmandie, France. From left to right: Brianna Tucker, Estella Yarbrough, Renee Collins Georges, Karen Evans and Tonette McKinney.
Photo by Carlo Carugo, prob. shot in Switzerland or Italy, Autumn 2002.
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier (Jun. 25 – 26).
Belleayre Music Festival, Highmount (Jul. 12); from left to right: Estelle Yarbrough, Renee Collins Georges, Katrina Harper, Karen Evans and Tonette McKinney.
A Ray Charles Orchestra without Ray Charles was tried out by Joe Adams in 2005. On August 4th he gathered a group of musicians, a few ‘Raelettes’, and Billy Osborne as the singer, in the Blue Note, in New York. The Raelettes in the photos are Andromeda Turre (who was hired in 2003, when concerts started to be canceled and therefore never performed live with Ray), Joy Styles and Shalaine Adams. Nobody booked the group.