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SURFACING

Hey, Ray, what do you say?

November 10, 2002|Elaine Dutka

Seen Ray Charles lately? If not, it probably won't be long. In what looks like a major push to extend the 12-time Grammy winner's soulful brand, his name is attached to a host of projects coming soon to a casino, TV screen or store near you.

Popping up in Vegas, and on order across the country, is the Ray Charles slot machine -- the first such device for the visually impaired. In 16 states, Charles pushes Lady Luck in a different guise, appearing in ads for state lotteries.

Meanwhile, the skating world is offering up "Ray Charles on Ice," a revue featuring Olympic champs Brian Boitano, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. The show, taped at Staples Center in October and airing Dec. 21 on NBC, has Charles singing four songs and accompanying the skaters on the piano -- though not onto the ice.

And by Christmas, "Little Ray," a $29.95 animatronic doll that sings and sways to "What'd I Say" and "America the Beautiful," will be on the shelves of stores, including 95% of the Walgreens chain. (There's no "Ray Charles as Santa" wrapping paper -- yet.)

"We're not reinventing Ray Charles," maintains Robert Pineda, a manager of the singer since 1999. "At 72, Ray has done it all, so he's concentrating on things he enjoys or believes in. Slot machines make blind people more independent, lotteries raise money for schools, and the doll is just a kick. He's getting paid, of course, but the money is incidental."

-- Elaine Dutka

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