From Homeless to a Huge Hit: The Ray Howard Band Lights Up Our Labor Day Again
Adrianne Murchison, Staff Editor
The Velvet Note Acoustic Living Room
You know that line at the end of the film, Casablanca?Humphrey Bogart says to Claude Rains, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
That’s The Ray Howard Band and The Velvet Note. A beautiful friendship born out of an occasion when the R&B band performed Earth Wind and Fire classics on short notice and became a resounding hit with the audience.
Ray Howard and his band return for the fourth year to perform to a sold out house, August 30th– September 1st.
Close your eyes for a few moments and you can probably envision the band singing your favorite Earth, Wind and Fire jam – and no doubt you’re starting to groove in your seat.
“This is the fourth or fifth year that I’ve done the show at The Velvet Note,” Ray Howard says. “For the first show, vocally, we knew five of those songs. At the time, I said, ‘I can only do what we do and add to the instrumental.’”
Despite the limitations of not knowing the material, the first year was a big success. “Ray has had more sold out shows than anyone we’ve ever featured onstage. And he works like crazy make sure his band is on point in every conceivable way. To say that I’m proud of him would be an enormous understatement,” Tamara says.
Before The Velvet Note, Ray Howard’s band performed Motown and other classic R&B songs. After year one, the band spent the next year learning the songbook of one of the most well-known music groups of all time, and became a popular draw at The Velvet Note.
“It’s so ironic that Tamara calls it the “acoustic living room,” Rays says. “It feels like I’m performing in my living room and I have family there. It makes you feel like the people are part of the show.”
As Ray sings his heart out on stage, lyrics such as “Every man has a place, in his heart there’s a space, and the world can’t erase his fantasies,” ring true in a very profound way for him.
In the early 1980s, the singer, who had discovered his talent while in high school, became homeless for two years. “It was a struggle and humbling to not have a place to lay my head,” Ray recalls.
One day, a man walking in downtown Atlanta gave him $20. Ray says he felt inspired to use the money to purchase an inexpensive shirt, a $5 pair of khakis and some toiletries. He cleaned himself up in a McDonald’s bathroom and decided to return to the clothing store to ask for a job.
“My life changed after that,” the Chicago native recalls. “Leaving that day, the [supervisor] said, ‘Can I give you a lift home?’”
Ray acknowledged that he was homeless. His boss then invited him to live at under his roof until Ray could afford to move into a place of his own.
“Homelessness showed me that where I was, was not my ending at all,” Ray says. “Because a lot of people that become homeless, they end up staying there. I’m just glad that I didn’t let it beat me. It gave me a passion. My passion now is to help homeless people.”
For years, during that time and beyond, Ray lost his singing voice. When it returned, he started singing solo wherever he could. About 2011, he formed a trio with BJ Johnson and Tricia Spicer, now performers of the 11-member Ray Howard Band.
Ray says many fans have flocked to the Earth Wind and Fire tribute show after seeing the band’s music sets streamed through The Velvet’s Note’s Facebook live feed.
“Oh man,” Ray says. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I saw Earth, Wind and Fire a year ago and I’ve never seen anybody do them justice like you do.”
The band prides themselves on their polished vocals and musicianship.
“Our whole point of doing the music is to pay alms to Earth, Wind and Fire, but do it in a very professional way, and a very good way,” Ray says. “When people leave, I want them to feel like they’ve been to an actual Earth, Wind and Fire show.”
As usual, the Earth Wind and Fire shows at The Velvet Note are completely sold out for 2019. Fans can begin purchasing 2020 seats on September 1st.