This Day in Black History: Feb. 18, 1959

Ray Charles records his hit "What'd I Say" at Atlantic Records.

Posted: 02/18/2014 12:00 AM EST

The story goes that Ray Charles ran out of tunes to play one night at a show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and this led him to improvise an untitled song that grew to be popular with his audiences. He had the gut feeling it should be recorded, called Atlantic Records — his label at the time — and the rest was history.

On Feb. 18, 1959, he recorded "What'd I Say." The song became a No. 1 R&B hit for Charles in 1959 and a No. 6 pop hit, his first big crossover hit. The song's success was said to be rooted in the sound of Charles' Wurlitzer electric piano and the call-and-response in the song's bridge, both elements uncommon in popular music at the time. 

"You start 'em off, you get 'em just first tapping their feet," Charles said, according to History.com. "Next thing they got their hands goin', and next thing they got their mouth open and they're yelling, and they're singin' and they're screamin'. It's a great feeling when you got your audience involved with you."

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(Photo: RB/Redferns)

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