The celebrated American soul musician Ray Charles visited Israel three times during his life. During the first, in 1972, he discovered that he was wildly popular in the Jewish state. So enthusiastic was his reception in Jerusalem that in his autobiography Charles recalled that “in 30 years on the road, I had never experienced anything like this.” Shalom Goldman writes:
During his two-week tour, Charles also visited former Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion at Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. . . . Israel’s founding father was then eighty-seven years old. The meeting between the “King of Soul” and “the Old Man,” as he was known affectionately by Israelis, has been preserved on film, [so that today] we can hear the children of Sde Boker join Charles and Ben-Gurion singing “Hava Nagilah.” Ray then sang Stevie Wonder’s song “Heaven Help Us All” for Ben-Gurion and the kibbutzniks.
In 1976, four years after he had visited Israel, B’nai B’rith honored Ray Charles as its man of the year. Accepting the award at a dinner in Beverly Hills, Charles said, “Even though I’m not Jewish, . . . Israel is one of the few causes I feel good about supporting. Blacks and Jews are hooked up and bound together by a common history of persecution. If someone besides a black ever sings the real gut-bucket blues, it’ll be a Jew.”
Read more on Tablet: https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/293059/ray-charles-in-israel