Ellis Hall seems to have been destined to pay tribute to Ray Charles. Like Charles, Hall is blind. Both men were born in Georgia, and both became singers. The two met and were friends for several years before the legendary Brother Ray died in 2004.
"It was really funny," Hall told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He came in when I was playing I Can See Clearly Now, literally during my solo. I had the band groove on while I went down to say hello. He stayed for the whole show and called me the next day."
This weekend, Hall will be performing Hit the Road Jack, I Can't Stop Loving You, Georgia on My Mind and other Charles standards with the Florida Orchestra. The program will be conducted by Matt Catingub, who has some impressive pops and jazz chops himself, having worked with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Bellson and Jack Jones.
Although Hall has performed his Charles show with orchestras from the Kennedy Center to the Hollywood Bowl, he also is known for having been the lead singer with Tower of Power and one of the vocalists for the animated California Raisins in TV commercials. In movies, he played organ and sang gospel in Big Momma's House, was the voice of a singing rooster in Chicken Run and performed in Catch Me If You Can. He has released three albums of his own.
Hall and the orchestra play at 8 p.m. Friday at Ferguson Hall of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa; 8 p.m. Saturday at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $20-$67; $10 for students. (727) 892-3337 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286; floridaorchestra.org.
John Fleming, Times performing arts critic