Maceo Parker Brings Ray Charles Classics To Wharton Center

Apr 19, 2018

Saxophone player Maceo Parker may have the greatest résumé in funk music history. On Friday night, Parker brings a show paying tribute to Ray Charles to MSU’s Wharton Center.

Parker first gained fame when James Brown started to single him out from his band back in the 60s. Later, Parker spent time in the band of Detroit legend George Clinton, Parliament-Funkadelic, and if you saw Prince’s Musicology tour, Maceo Parker was there, too.

Nowadays, Parker is playing shows that honor a big early influence on his work, Ray Charles. As a young man, he says he saw a Ray Charles concert and tried to get backstage. "I got 10, 12, 15 feet from his dressing room," Parker explains, "and I see a door that says 'Mr. Ray Charles' with a big star on the door. I'm all alone. I point to the door and I say 'Mr. Ray Charles, I don't know how I'm gonna do it, but one of these days, you are going to know me.' That was 1961."

By 1993, Parker had made a name for himself to the point where he shared a bill with Ray Charles in Europe for a few weeks. He got the thrill of a lifetime on the night he was invited to play a sax solo with Charles on You Made Me Love You.

Friday night’s concert at the Wharton Center is billed as Maceo Parker: To Ray With Love: A Special Tribute to Ray Charles, The Ray Charles Orchestra and The Raelettes. The show means a lot to Parker, and he loves this band. "It's been a lot of years that I've been loving Ray Charles," Parker continues, "and from way back then, to be able to fast forward to right now, and to be standing in front of that band, with the Raelettes and imitate him and do a show as Ray Charles is like heaven-sent."

While you may know Maceo Parker for his saxophone work, you may not know that he sings, too, and the resemblance to Ray Charles’ voice is unmistakable.