‘Your Cheatin’ Heart: Ray Charles Makes A Hank Williams Classic His Own

Hank’s posthumous country No.1 of 1953 got a soulful makeover from The Genius.

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Ray Charles photo: Gilles Petard/Redferns
Ray Charles photo: Gilles Petard/Redferns

Nine years after “Your Cheatin’ Heart” became a posthumous country No.1 for Hank Williams in 1953, and after it had attracted covers by Dean Martin and Gene Vincent among others, it got a soulful makeover by Ray Charles. That version entered the Billboard Hot 100 for Brother Ray on November 17, 1962.

It did so playing second fiddle to the main track on his single of the time, “You Are My Sunshine,” which itself emphasised Ray’s versatility, as a remake of a Bing Crosby hit from 1941. The latter song entered that same Hot 100 at No.77, climbing to No.7 and topping the R&B survey. The Williams cover started at No.84, but only climbed as high as No.29, and six places higher on the R&B chart.

Charles was deep into his unique mélange of the country and soul worlds at the time, having just released the second volume of his hallowed Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Both sides of the ABC-Paramount single featured on it, and Ray wore his affection for Hank’s music on his sleeve by including another song that went No.1 country after Williams’ death, “Take These Chains From My Heart.” That became another Charles signature, and hit No.8 on the US pop chart in 1963.

Few could match Charles’ interpretative powers on “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” but plenty tried: at least 160 covers of the song are known to have been recorded. On the country side, Faron Young had got to it in 1957, George Hamilton IV in ’58, Kitty Wells and Skeeter Davis in 1960 and Patsy Cline two years later. Paul Anka, Connie Francis and Fats Domino were also among those who also opened their “Heart” before Charles did.

Of the countless artists who came to the song later, versions arrived in many styles, from Jerry Lee Lewis to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Roy Orbison, and Del Shannon. Elvis Presley remade it for his Elvis For Everyone! album of 1965, the year after an apposite rendition by Hank Williams Jr., in the biopic about his father that took its very name from the much-visited song.

Listen to the best of Ray Charles on Apple Music and Spotify.

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