Don't get too excited about those announcements last week of a "new" Ray Charles duets album. I'm told there's trouble brewing on this project that has not been addressed.
Earlier this year, Charles won a posthumous Grammy award for his "Genius Loves Company" album on Concord Records.
That was a collection of digitized duets, but the combination of Charles' untimely death and the movie "Ray," starring Jamie Foxx, drove the CD to sales of 3 million in the United States. It caused a Ray Charles renaissance of the first order.
So, what to do? Some at the Charles estate wanted a "Genius II," but the tracks didn't exist. Then someone remembered that Charles had recorded a bunch of duets years ago and hadn't released them.
The original tracks were recorded for Quincy Jones' now-defunct Qwest Records and produced by Phil Ramone. Almost none of the tracks were released. But "I'll Be Good to You," with Chaka Khan, was a hit in 1989. (It's unclear whether that song will be included on the new collection.)
Estate insiders thought: Wouldn't it be a great idea to release these duets? Maybe. But apparently they also felt the original collaborators were no longer relevant or commercial enough to market.
Charles' collaborators on those tracks included Brandy, Brownstone, Chuckie Booker, B.B. King, En Vogue, Faith Evans and Stevie Wonder. In fact, there's supposedly a duet between Wonder and Charles on "Living for the City" that's supposed to be spectacular.
Critics of the Charles estate, however, tell me there's such a clamor to make more money from the deceased legend that insiders have gone too far this time. Apparently, all those artists who actually recorded with Charles in the studio have been "erased" and their vocals replaced by Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross and other artists considered bigger stars now.
It is not known whether the original singers have been notified that their vocals have been eliminated.
Two of the new vocalists are Alicia Keys and Ruben Studdard, neither of whom Charles even knew, critics charge. Additionally, there's the matter of LaBelle, who — though revered by many — was not particularly liked by Charles.
Wonder, I am told, declined to sign off on releasing his duet for this new weird collection.
All of this may come as a shock to Atlantic Records chief emeritus Ahmet Ertegun, whose name was used in the press release announcing the album on Rhino Records. You can still find Internet references to an album called "Duets," which Rhino declined to release in 1998.
The release claimed that Ertegun was fulfilling a "deathbed" promise to Charles to put out his material. But since Charles had not recorded for Ertegun since leaving Atlantic in 1959, that claim may be dubious at best.
It's nothing new that dead artists are exploited. Charles seems destined to join Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and countless others now that he's gone to his great reward. I'm told he left behind hundreds of unreleased recordings that should provide lots of legal tangles.
By the way, about a month ago I heard that Quincy Jones was not up to snuff and had actually been spotted coming off a London-Los Angeles flight in a wheelchair. Everyone loves Q. Let's hope he's recovered from whatever has been ailing him.
Good news: One of our favorite people, Tom Hanks, will play an even bigger role in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that gives the Oscars. Tom had been one of the actors' reps; now he's a governor.
Let's hope one of the first things Tom does is straighten out honorary awards to actors and directors who've been overlooked in the past. There's a gaping hole concerning the great Doris Day and Richard Widmark, movie legends who should immediately get recognition.
Then: Robert Altman. The 80-year-old director of "Nashville," "M*A*S*H" and "Gosford Park" has just finished his latest film, "A Prairie Home Companion." He's too important to still be overlooked. Hanks is the perfect man to right this wrong.
News came last week that Janet Arvizo, the mother of Michael Jackson's recent teen accuser, was being prosecuted on charges of welfare fraud.
You may recall that when asked about alleged welfare fraud on her part as she was testifying in the Jackson child molestation trial, she invoked the Fifth Amendment because she didn't want to incriminate herself.
But it came out clearly in testimony given by others that Arvizo had applied for welfare at the same time she received a $150,000 settlement as a result of her civil suit against JC Penney.
She also allegedly "laundered" her welfare checks through her boyfriend's bank account, according to testimony she and her now-husband gave in court.
We could feel sorry for Arvizo — after all, she was put up to the trial by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon.
In his zealousness to prosecute Jackson for anything, he used Arvizo. He didn't care to do any kind of background check on her before exposing her to possible prosecution of her own. Arvizo has every right to feel burned.
On the other hand: It seemed that when she testified, not only was Arvizo lying about Jackson but she also appeared to be very damaged mentally.
More on Arvizo and her welfare fraud problems later this week...