Ray Charles is a music publisher’s dream. Not only did he write songs that stand the test of time, but his interpretations of other songwriter’s tunes could turn them into royalty-generating goldmines.

Charles wrote classics like “What I’d Say” and made other songwriter’s tunes into hits as well. His version of “Georgia On My Mind,” written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrel, went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, even though it had been recorded by plenty of well-known performers before then.

Besides Charles’ own songwriting, and the tunes he owned through his own music publishing companies, “there are few, if any, recording artists who have impacted publishing houses around the country as has Ray Charles,” says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist’s licensing affairs. “If you just look at the 11 different songs where Ray won a Grammy award you'll find 14 different publishers/co-publishers.”

In this year that marks what would have been the singer’s 80th birthday on Sept. 23, the Ray Charles Marketing Group is working with partners on numerous projects including a new documentary on the Biography Channel and the debut this fall of “Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Musical” set for November.

Most of the songs that Charles wrote through 1962 are owned by Warner/Chappell Music, while the songs he wrote after that are published by Charles’ own publishing operations, owned by the Ray Charles Foundation, and licensed by the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which was formed in 2005, to maximize opportunities from those rights.

Charles, who first reached stardom in the early `60s on Atlantic Records, was initially published by Progressive Music, the publishing company established by Atlantic’s founding co-owners, Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson.

In 1955, Hill & Range acquired 50% ownership of Progressive and acquired the remainder in 1962. In 1975, Hill & Range was acquired by Chappell Music.

Chappell Music previously had been bought by the Gramaphone-Phillips Group in 1968. That company became known as PolyGram in 1972. And in 1984, PolyGram sold Chappell to Carlin American. Carlin, in turn, sold Chappell to the Warner Music Group in 1988 – bringing Charles’ early catalog back into the same fold as Atlantic Records after three decades.

Beginning in 1962, three years after Ray Charles left Atlantic and signed with ABC, every song he wrote, co-wrote or arranged and sometimes even recorded was owned by his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music Corp. and
Racer Music Co.

The last five years have been good ones for the Charles’ publishing catalogs. Income for his older copyrights has been propelled by more recent success. In 2004, Concord Record released Charles’s Grammy-winning album of “Genius Loves Company,” which has since sold 3.2 million copies. In the same year, the film “Ray” was released featuring Jamie Foxx in the Oscar-winning lead role. Since 2004, Rhino’s “Very Best of Ray Charles” has sold more than a million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, after selling only 143,000 units between its release in 2000 and mid-2004.

“Between the `Greatest Hits,’ the movie, the soundtrack, and the new [Concord] records, and Kanye West’s `Golddigger,’ [which uses the Ray Charles/Renald Richard composition `I’ve Got A Woman,’], it’s all kind of snowballed,” says Brad Rosenberger, Warner/Chappell senior VP of catalog development and marketing. “Ray is definitely reaching a new generation of kids.”

“Ray Charles was probably the greatest voice of his generation when it comes to rhythm & blues,” adds Rosenberger.

But that reputation sometimes proved daunting to other singers, when considering if they should follow in his footsteps. In other words, because Charles often did the definitive versions of his songs, “we don¹t get a lot of cover versions of the songs he recorded,” Gumina says, and Rosenberger agrees.

According to the Warner Music Group, the top Charles songs in its catalog include: “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I),” “Mary Ann,” “What’d I Say,” and “I’ve Got a Woman.”

While Charles has a substantial songwriting catalog post 1961, “what is interesting is he didn’t like to write,” says Gumina. “He wrote songs when he was on Atlantic because he didn’t like what Ahmet [Ertegun] and Jerry [Wexler] were giving him [to record]. So his most prolific writing period was between 1948 and 1960.

“As soon as he became big enough to record the biggest songs, he started recording the American songbook Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, the Gershwins and Irving Berlin.”

That dovetailed nicely with the fact that once he became big enough singing star, listeners wanted to hear his version of popular songs like “Over The Rainbow,” Gumina says.

Once he recorded such a song, he usually made the definitive version.

“Look at `Georgia on My Mind,’” notes Gumina. “Everyone has recorded it but no one wants to hear any other version.”

But just because he recorded other songwriters’ songs, doesn’t mean he was forsaking publishing. By the 1960’s, Charles stature was such that the top songwriters were constantly pitching their songs to him to record, Gumina says. “He take the stance, if I am going to record it, I want to publish it.”

So he started Tangerine Music, which was named after his Tangerine Records label, and Racer Music.

“It was unheard of for an artist to own his own record label, his own publishing and his own studio at that time,” Gumina says. (Charles had opened a recording studio and offices for his umbrella organization, RPM International, in Los Angeles).

Percy Mayfield was among the songwriters whose music Charles published through his music publishing arms. Charles also capitalized on another publishing angle: he began recording a lot of public domain songs, like “America The Beautiful,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” where he published the arrangement.

Today, the Ray Charles Marketing Group represents about 500 songs from those companies, including about a dozen Charles wrote and another 30 or 40 where he is credited as co-writer. It also represents 80 of his songs where it can license both the songs and the master, which it is making available to film producers, directors, and advertising agencies.

Since the release of the “Ray” biopic, Gumina says that synchronization of Charles songs has proven lucrative. But he also says performance royalties are on the upswing too.

For example, when Charles first published “Hit The Road Jack,” who could imagine the uses that would come its way.

Nowadays, at any sporting event -- whether it’s a player fouling out of a basketball game, a pitcher getting pulled from the mound, a hockey player getting sent to the penalty box – when a player is pulled from the game, “Hit The Road Jack” will resound over the PA system.

“It is one of the most recognizable songs in the world, Gumina says.

Currently, Gumina and Rosenberger are waiting for lightening to strike again. With the Ray Charles musical heading to Broadway later this year, they see new opportunities.

After all, the film “Ray” was a grand slam that opened up new opportunities and new markets for Charles, so why shouldn’t a successful Broadway musical be just as powerful a boost for the Ray Charles song catalog.