With events marking the celebration of Ray Charles’ 80th birthday Sept 23, and a new Ray Charles musical bowing on Broadway this fall, executives at Concord Records, Rhino Records and the Ray Charles Foundation are gearing up for busy months ahead.

Concord, for one, expects to ride the wave of attention generated by events such as the debut of “Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Musical” set for November.

“We have some surprises up our sleeves,” says Marc Morgenstern, Concord’s chief market and asset development officer.

Likewise, Rhino says it is planning a September release of Charles’ repertoire also.

Concord is working with the Ray Charles Marketing Group to mine value from the catalog, looking for unreleased and rare tracks.

“We want to be judicious,” says Morgernstern. “We are now looking deeper to see what is in the vault and what can we modernize.”

Of course, Concord and Starbucks helped revitalize the Ray Charles catalog with the 2004 smash hit, “Genius Love Company.” That album, released in the same year as the biographical movie “Ray,” has sold 3.2 million units to date, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

While Concord issued “Genius Loves Company” in 2004
and “Ray Sings, Basie Swings” in 2006, it was only last year that the label cut a deal for Charles’ post-Atlantic Records catalog, which encompasses 35-40 album titles and a number of singles. Rhino markets Charles’ Atlantic titles.

Before coming to market with new Ray Charles titles, Concord said it had to police the marketplace.

In the time between the release of “Genius Loves Company,” and the film, 60-plus Charles titles were released and only a few of them were legitimate. “We scoured the marketplace,” says Concord product manager Jeffrey Spector.

“We had to be the sheriff,” adds Morgenstern.

Since acquiring the post-Atlantic rights, Concord has been reissuing the catalog, focusing first on the artist’s most important and popular releases, says Morgenstern.

So far eight of those titles are available physically while most of them are out digitally.

Concord started with the release of a greatest hits compilation, “Genius: The Ultimate Collection,” which has scanned 96,000 units to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

In bringing that title to market, Concord used extensive online and direct-to consumer marketing, including a television direct response campaign, Spector says.

In addition to traditional retail, Starbucks also carried that title.

Concord has also issued “A Message From The People,” “The Genius Hits the Road,” “The Spirit of Christmas, “Sings for Lovers,” and “Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, Vols. 1 & 2.” The latter set includes Charles’ groundbreaking crossover hit album that spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 1962.

Rhino/Atlantic/WMG has 23 Ray Charles titles available, according to the Rhino website. In addition to sets that Rhino will put out to coincide with the 80th birthday events and the new musical, the company is using online and social networking tools “to get people talking about Ray again,” says Rhino senior VP of marketing Kenny Nemes.

Nemes points out that any Charles marketing campaigns have a head start with young fans, thanks to the “Ray” movie, which helped win over “a much broader and younger audience. The movie turned a ton of people onto him who had no idea about him.”

Meanwhile, Concord is issuing new Charles titles physically on a quarterly basis, in order to give each album the attention they deserve, Morgenstern says.

Like Rhino, Concord says its marketing campaigns surrounding those albums will be designed to reach existing fans as well as reach new ones.

“Ray passed away before many of the online tools were available,” says Morgenstern, but Concord is making full use of all digital avenues, because it allows them to reach younger music fans and helps educate them about
Charles.

“A new Ray Charles website has been quite successful in engaging fans,” he says.

The Ray Charles Facebook page has 300,000 members. In addition, Concord teamed up with the Ray Charles Foundation to produce a 16-part video podcast, directed by Bret Primack, aimed at introducing consumers to his music. The podcast series has generated close to one million views.

So far most of Concord’s marketing has focused on U.S. and Canada. Now, label officials are looking oversees.

“On Facebook, we found a large number of the members are French, which tells us we have opportunities in France,” Spector says.

In the digital format, so far, 1.4 million Charles tracks have been downloaded, with 530,000 coming since Dec. 31, 2007.

“We will take a real hard look at digital-only titles to see which one makes sense to issue as a physical release,” says Spector.

Likewise, Atlantic Record has issued all of the Ray Charles albums digitally, reports Nemes. “With everything out digitally, we are putting together new bundles of his music.”

Concord is releasing its Charles repertoire “in different configurations and [at] different price points because we are approaching different kinds of fans in different ways,” says Morgenstern. “We want to offer a lot of choices.”

Individual titles like “Sings for Lovers,” “The Spirit Of Christmas” and “The Genius Hits The Road,” are midline-priced at $11.98. But the double CD “Genius + Soul=Jazz,” featuring four of Charles’ original albums, including the 1961 set of that title, carries a suggested list price of $18.99.

Some packages are sold in multiple configurations, including multiple discs and even CD/DVD packages. In addition, Concord also has come out with a vinyl version of the classic “Modern Sounds of Country,” and plans to do more on other releases.

Rhino also is re-issuing classic Charles titles on vinyl, says Nemes.

In the U.S., the Charles album catalog, on all labels, has sold 9.8 million units since the inception of SoundScan in 1991.