Clint Holmes was performing in South Florida with the Palm Beach Pops orchestra about a year ago when he heard the first chatter of a tribute show to Ray Charles.
Larry Rosen, the producer of the Jazz Roots series that drops a handful of dates into the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre each year, decided to honor the venerable Albany, Ga., native with a multi-name lineup and mentioned the idea to Holmes, a 40-year-plus entertainment vet well-established in Las Vegas when he isn’t touring.
“Like everyone else in the world who loves music, I love Ray Charles,” Holmes said was his first reaction upon being asked by Rosen to host and perform in the show. “In Vegas, we have a lot of impersonators, and almost all of them impersonate Ray. When you see that, you realize there wasn’t anybody like Ray.”
Holmes will be onstage Wednesday at Cobb Energy Centre along with gospel-R&B sextet Take 6, jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, smooth jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum, the Clark Atlanta University Big Band and the Ebenezer Baptist Church gospel choir.
Each act will perform five or six songs, with some collaboration among the team. Holmes plans to sing “Deed I Do” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (weather notwithstanding) with Freelon and the ensemble will unite for the big numbers — “What’d I Say” and “Georgia on My Mind” among them.
“There will be a lot of that kind of wonderful togetherness,” Holmes said last week from Las Vegas, where he performs a monthly residency at the Cabaret Jazz room tucked inside the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
After the Atlanta show, the officially named “Georgia on My Mind: Celebrating Ray Charles” will head west for another performance at the Smith Center with the University of Las Vegas singers and orchestra replacing the Atlanta musicians.
No other dates for the tribute are planned, but there is talk of adding a few more later in the year, Holmes said.
Even with Charles’ legacy resonating strongest in Georgia, Holmes believes the show would be successful anywhere given Charles’ far-reaching influence.
“Ray is not to be toyed with. He’s iconic for all of the best reasons,” Holmes said. “We throw the word genius around a lot, but in his case, it’s true. … To me, one of the criteria for being a genius is that you have a unique take and are one of a kind, and Ray was that.”
Considering that Holmes comes from the land renowned for its aforementioned impersonators, he’s also aware of the balancing act between tribute and mimic and is treading carefully to make sure he and the acts stay focused on the former.
Holmes, who is returning to Atlanta after a 15-year-plus gap, is eager to perform Charles’ “Come Live With Me” and will also spend portions of the show telling the audience about key moments in Charles’ life.
But still, he’s adamant that respect will be the key word of the night.
“My roots are in pop and jazz, and listening to Ray Charles can be intimidating,” said Holmes, who is readying his first jazz CD for release this fall. “The challenge has been to find my own take on the music without taking it so far out of what Ray did. We would like to think if Ray was sitting in the audience, he would love it.”
“Georgia on My Mind: Celebrating Ray Charles” with Take 6, Kirk Whalum, Nnenna Freelon, Clint Holmes, the Clark Atlanta University Big Band and the Ebenezer Baptist Church gospel choir. 8 p.m. Wednesday. $26-$96. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.