Ray | 2005
The filming locations for Taylor Hackford’s apparently globetrotting biopic of Ray Charles (Seattle, New York, Chicago, Paris, Rome...) can be found almost entirely around the production’s base of New Orleans, thanks to the ingenious use of stock newsreel footage. And shots of 1950s ‘Los Angeles’ are borrowed from Carl Franklin’s excellent Devil In A Blue Dress.
It’s worth bearing in mind that many of the locations in New Orleans were damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and some may still be under renovation.
About 50 miles southwest of the Big Easy is Thibodaux, and two miles south of the town you find the Laurel Valley Village Museum, 595 Highway 308.
Dating from 1832, the largest surviving 19th century sugar cane plantation complex in the US, with nearly 60 original structures, became ‘Jellyroll, Florida’, where the young Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) is traumatised (before losing his sight) by the death of his younger brother. The plantation is also featured in Alan Parker’s Angel Heart .
Both 1940s ‘Seattle’, where Charles first meets Quincy Jones, and 1950s ‘Atlanta’, are downtown Hammond, off I-55, about 50 miles to the northwest of New Orleans.
Hitting the road with the Lowell Fulson Band, Charles plays the round of Black nightclubs which came to be dubbed the ‘Chitlin Circuit’, including the Half Moon Bar & Grill, 1125 St Mary Street – although the interior seen is that of New Orleans’ famed Maple Leaf Bar, 8316 Oak Street (another location used in Angel Heart); the Sandpiper Lounge, 2119 Louisiana Avenue; and El Matador, 504 Esplanade Avenue (which was owned by the director’s son, but has since become the Balcony Music Club).
It’s in the the eccentric Saturn Bar, 3067 St Claude Avenue, Bywater, that Charles attacks his road manager and finally leaves Fulson. The Saturn, a reminder of the days when Saturn V rockets were built at the Lockheed-Michoud facility in New Orleans East, was previously seen in John Grisham adaptation The Pelican Brief.
‘Houston, Texas’, where Charles meets his wife-to-be Della Bea (Kerry Washington), is the picturesque town of Algiers, across the Mississippi from New Orleans’ French Quarter. Here you can find the 1930s brick-and-tile Gulf Gas Station, 446 Pelican Avenue (which closed in 1990) and Algiers Point Fire Department, Opelousas Avenue, past which the couple stroll. Algiers Point is also featured in 2011 superhero adventure Green Lantern.
The stylish ‘ABC’ record office of Sam Clark (Kurt Fuller) was found within the the Masons’ Scottish Rite Temple, now the University of New Orleans Downtown Theater, 619 Carondelet Street.
As backing singer and mistress, Margie (Regina King), leaves him, Charles performs Hit The Road, Jack in the Blue Room of the elegant Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel, 123 Baronne Street. The Roosevelt is also featured in 2013 caper Now You See Me.
Charles turns and gets back on the bus rather than play to a segregated audience in ‘Augusta, Georgia’. The demonstrating crowd is actually outside outside New Orleans’ Morris Municipal Auditorium, 1201 St Peters Avenue, on Congo Square south of Louis Armstrong Park.
As his fame increases, Charles plays bigger venues: ‘Indianapolis’, where he performs Unchain My Heart (which was the original title of the film) is the Orpheum Theater, 129 Roosevelt Way in the Central Business District, opposite the Roosevelt Hotel; and he silences a restless audience with I Can’t Stop Loving You at the Saenger Theatre, 143 North Rampart Street. The Saenger was virtually destroyed by Katrina, but was restored and reopened in 2013.
NO’s Louis Armstrong International Airport stands in for ‘Boston’ as Charles’ career hits bottom with a drug bust, but he’s redeemed as the Louisiana State Legislature in the State Capitol, 900 North Third Street, Baton Rouge becomes ‘Georgia State Capital’ for the singer’s induction as Georgia’s Favorite Son.
A couple of genuine Los Angeles locations include Ray’s one-time home, 3910 Hepburn Avenue, at West 39th Street, in Leimert Park, near the Coliseum, and his former mansion, 4863 Southridge Avenue, in View Park, Baldwin Hills, northeast of Los Angeles International Airport, where the production managed to film just before new owners carried out renovations.