Georgia will be on everyone’s mind April 28, when the Brawner Brothers Band brings a Ray Charles tribute show to the Mars Theatre in Springfield.
The Brawner Brothers Band is a jazz-funk group based out of Harlem, N.Y., that incorporate blues, soul and R&B into dynamic sets, performing all around the globe. They have been performing the tribute show “Ray on My Mind: The Life and Music of Ray Charles” for five years now.
Like Ray Charles, bandleader Kenny Brawner is a Georgia native as well as a pianist and singer.
“I started playing when I was 6 years old,” says Brawner. “I went to Catholic parochial school in Augusta and was actually taught by a nun. I got started on classical music and I’ve been playing ever since.”
From classical to jazz, Brawner has played all kinds of music, but Ray Charles has always been a big influence.
“Even when I was doing my own music, I would always incorporate some Ray Charles in my repertoire,” says Brawner. “My son, who works for a record company, knew how much I love Ray Charles and he said, ‘Dad, why don’t you do a Ray Charles tribute show?’ And I’m an actor, also, so I go into character as Ray Charles.”
Brawner, a veteran of the theater, has had lead roles in “Clementine in the Lower Nine,” “Total Bent” and “What Makes a Man.” His musicianship and acting chops combine into an uncanny portrayal of Ray Charles.
Brawner never breaks character as he storms through Ray Charles’ beloved hits and delivers monologues related to Charles’ music. “For us it’s a hybrid concert/theater piece in that I go into character as Ray Charles and I tell his life story from his perspective,” explains Brawner.
Supporting Brawner is a 12-piece orchestra that boasts a combined resume that includes work with everyone from Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder to Shaggy and Rihanna. Brawner is also backed by The Raelettes, three talented, Broadway-honed singers who help with duets.
“Ray Charles has so many songs that I like,” says Brawner. “We do ‘Georgia on my Mind,’ which is a lot of people’s favorite. One of my favorites, which not a lot of people remember, is ‘Drown in My Own Tears' ... and of course, ‘What I Say.’”
He adds with a laugh, “A lot of people don’t expect the show to be as good as it is because I’m not Ray Charles. This actually happened. We were on a tour last November and somebody yelled out in the audience, ‘I thought he was dead.’”
You can’t fault the audience for forgetting they’re not seeing the real Ray Charles. Brawner and his band are very convincing. “Except I don’t have any hair,” Brawner adds with a chuckle.