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The Raelettes (or occasionally The Raelets or The Raeletts) were an American girl group from the 1950s to 2003, formed, as the name suggests, to provide backing vocals for Ray Charles. Between 1966 and 1973, as a separate act (but produced and accompanied by Charles), the Raelettes released a number of singles and one compilation album on the Tangerine label (which was owned by Charles). A few of these 45"-records became small pop and R&B hits. Several members later went on to solo careers. Some also thrived as studio background singers. And a few girls were active in other girl groups.
Before becoming the Raelettes, the group was known as the Cookies. Like Ray Charles, they were signed by Atlantic Records, who released a few singles with them, and hired them as backing vocals for other acts (in the studio and live). Ray 'discovered' The Cookies in 1956, in Philadelphia. That night he went out to a concert by the Lionel Hampton Band. Chuck Willis opened the show, and he was accompanied by the girls. Ray, as he later stated, was immediately hooked on their way of singing. He had already recorded "Drown In My Own Tears" with Mary Ann Fisher (who also toured with the band as a featured solo singer between 1956 and 1958), supported by two other girls, but now he wanted to make this kind of female backing vocals part of his sound, permanently. He first invited The Cookies for a recording session in New York City, in August 1956, where they taped "Lonely Avenue", "I Want To Know" and "Leave My Woman Alone". Margie Hendrix (also known as Margie Hendricks), Dorothy Jones, and Darlene McCrea formed the first line-up. In 1958 The Cookies were re-baptized as The Raelettes (Raeletts, Raelets, etc.), and started touring with The Genius. Margie Hendrix explained the name change from "Cookies" to "Raelet(t)(te)s" in an October 1961 interview in the French jazz magazine Jazz Hot: "Since we became an integrated part of Ray Charles' orchestra, it would have been perfectly stupid to continue using the 'Cookies' name. On a nice morning Ray tackled the problem, and came to the conclusion that only two names were possible: the 'Silver Bells' or the 'Raelets'. I immediately rejected the 'Silver Bells' - that name appeared ridiculous to me. And that's how we called ourselves the Raelets. We've never been [called] the 'Raylettes': that name would be an error. In American [English] Ray is [a name] for men, and Rae is for the ladies."
In these early years Margie Hendrix was the Raelette's foremost member, and the most talented one. Ray Charles said about her, "Aretha, Gladys, Etta James — these gals are all bad, but on any given night, Margie will scare you to death." The first line-up that backed Ray during live performances consisted of Margie Hendrix, Pat Lyles, and Gwen(dolyn) Berry. The second known line-up was Margie Hendrix , Patricia Lyles, Gwen Berry, and Darlene McCrea. From the early years until the end the group always consisted out of 4 or 5 singers. Later members included Lillie Fort, Mable John, Merry Clayton, Clydie King, Susaye Greene, Dorothy Berry, Alex Brown, Madelyn Quebec, and Janice Mitchell. Rita Graham recorded the album Vibrations, produced by Ray Charles for his Tangerine label, before she briefly sub'ed as Raelette in the summer of 1968. For several other girls Ray Charles also produced and released one or more solo singles: Margie Hendrix, Clydie King, Alex Brown, Dorothy Berry, and Madelyn Quebec (Ray frequently backing them on piano).
Other Raelettes who appeared in later line-ups: Mae Mosely-Saunders, Bettye Smith (1950s), Patricia Richards, Helen Bryant, Lillie Fort, Bobbie Pierce, Fritz Basket, Marilyn McCoo, Vermettya Royster, Beverly Ann LeShure, Verlyn Flenaugh, Barbara Nell Terrault (1960s), Vernita Moss, Denise Jackson, Cynthia Scott, Bernice Hullaby, Linda Sims, Trudy Cohran, Deborah Gleese, Linda Sims, Chrylynn Cobb, Pat Peterson, Avis Harrell (1970s), Elaine Woodard, Ann Johnson, Sharon Creighton, Angie Workman, Anita Brooks, Kathryn Collier (1980s), Kay Nickerson, Lalomie Washburn, Valerie Washington, Wendy Smith, Paula Moye, Pamela Diggs, Michelle King, Karen Evans, Kathy Mackey, Tonette McKinney, Katrina Harper, Tangy Biggers, Tonette McKinney (1990s), Renée Collins Georges and Brianna Tucker (2000s). Estella Yarbrough served the Raelettes from 1969 to Ray Charles' last big band concert in 2003. In the list below a few more girls are mentioned.
Adams, Shalaine (selected but never performed, 2005)
Armed, Mabel (1969)
Basket, Fritz (1964 - 1965 )
Berry (Durr), Dorothy (1971 - 1980)
Berry, Gwen(dolyn) ("Squatty Roo") (1960 - 1968)
Biggers, Tangy (1999)
Brooks, Anita (Nika) (1989 )
Brown, Alex(andra) (1966 - 1968)
Bryant, Helen (1964)
Clark, Dottie (c 1964?)
Clayton, Merry (1966 - 1968)
Cobb, Chrylynn (1978)
Cohran(-Hunter), Trudy (1977 - 1991)
Collier, Kathy (Kathryn) (c 1973)
Creighton, Sharon (1986 - 1987)
Diggs - King, Pamela (1992)
Evans, Karen (1996 - 1999)
Flenaugh, Verlyn (1968)
Fort, Lillie (Lillian) (1964 - 1965)
Georges, Renee (2000 - 2003)
Gleese, Deborah (1977)
Graham, Rita (1968 - 1969)
Greene, Susaye (1968 - 1975)
Harper - Cooke, Katrina (1997)
Harrell, Avis (1979 - 1982)
Hendricks (Hendrix), Margie (Marjorie, Margaret) (Cookie & Raelette, 1955 - 1964)
Hutcherson, Peggy (c 1966)
Jackson, Denise (1973)
James, Doretta (1957)
John, Mable (1966 - 1978, 1998)
Johnson, Ann [= Ledoria?] (1981 - 1985)
King, Clydie (1966 - 1968)
Lesure, Beverly Ann (1968)
Lion, Pat (1957)
Lyles, Pat (Priscilla) (Cookie & Raelette (1955 - 1965)
Mackey, Kathy (1997)
McCann, Tammy (2001)
McCoo, Marilyn (1965)
McCrea, Darlene (Ethel) (1956 - 1964)
McKinney, Tonette (1994 - 2003)
Michelle, Paula (1991)
Mitchell (Trees), Janice (Afreeka) (1982 - 1985)
Mosely-Lyles, Mae (1959 - 1960)
Moss, Vernita (1969 - 1975)
Moye, Paula (1991 - 1992)
Nickerson, Kay (1990)
Peterson, Pat (1980 - 1989)
Pierce, Bobbie (1964)
Quebec, Madelyn (1973 - 1987)
Richards, Patricia (1963)
Roberson, Ruby Rae (1959 - 1960)
Royster, Vermetea (1965 - 1966)
Saunders, Mae (1960 - 1961)
Scott, Cynthia (1972 - 1974)
Sims, Linda (1975 - 1978)
Smith, Bettye (1960)
Smith, Gwen(dolyn) (Wendy) (1988 - 1991)
Styles, Joy (2005)
Terrault, Barbara Nell (1968)
Tucker, Brianna (2001 - 2002)
Turre, Andromeda (selected but never performed, 2005)
Washburn, Lalomie (Lomie) (1990)
Whitney, Tracey (1991)
Woodard (Ross), Elaine (1983 - 1987)
Workman, Angela (Angie) (1987 - 1999)
Wright, Edna (a.k.a. Sandy Wynns) (1966)
Yarbrough, Estella (1969 - 2003)
- "One Hurt Deserves Another" / "One Room Paradise" (#76 Pop / #24 R&B)
- "Into Something Fine" / "Lover's Blues"
- "All I Need Is His Love" / "I'm Gettin' 'Long All Right" (#23 R&B)
- "I Want To Thank You" / "It's Almost Here" (#47 R&B)
- "I Want To (Do Everything for You)" (#96 Pop / #39 R&B) / "Keep It To Yourself"
- "Bad Water" (#58 Pop / #40 R&B) / "That Goes To Show You"
- "Here I Go Again" / "Leave My Man Alone"
- "Come Get It, I Got It" / "Try A Little Kindness"
- "You Must Be Doing Alright" / "You Have A Way With Me"
- "If You Wanna Keep Him" / "Many Rivers To Cross"
- (Ray Charles Presents The) Raeletts, Yesterday... Today... Tomorrow (Tangerine 1515, 1972).
- The Raelettes, Hits And Rarities (Titanic Records TR-CD 4422, 1993).
- "Ray Charles Video Museum: Ray Charles - Personnel & Co-Performers". Raycharlesvideomuseum.blogspot.com. Retrieved 25 January 2018.