POWER, POISE & PRESTIGE: Legendary manager, actor and businessman Joe Adams is known as “The Man Behind The Man,” who guided the historical career of ‘The Genius’ Ray Charles, but the he was much more than that.
The man who has preserved the legacy of Ray Charles was a barrier-breaking star long before ‘The Genius’
You may remember Joe Adams as the legendary manger of musical genius Ray Charles from the motion picture ‘Ray’, but what most people don’t know is Joe Adams was an entertainment innovator, actor, savvy businessman, and legend in his own right.
In a rare one on one interview with the Sentinel, Adams reveals stories untold and provides a unique introspective into The Man who was behind The Man.
It’s a bright sunny day in the city of Los Angeles and the historical landmark RPM International sits quiet on Washington Blvd.
The piano keys are still; the wardrobe closet is flush with Ray Charles jackets, silk shirts, Ballys shoes and pants.
The President of Ray Charles Foundation Valerie Ervin and the rest of us anxiously wait for the man who for many and has been known as the man behind the man.
As he carefully navigates each step from the small parking structure up the stair chase into the studio that sits adjacent to the famous recording booth, Joe Adams has arrived.
It is a location that he is all too familiar with because he was responsible for designing RPM International Studios where Charles’ genius expanded.
There he was, slowed only by his biological clock that now stretches to 89, wearing a dapper purple silk shirt and stylish matching slacks.
Adams who for more than four decades teamed with the revolutionary Ray Charles to form an entertainment business model that will never be duplicated, is still managing.
These days he sits atop as the Chairman of the Board of The Ray Charles Foundation and his own foundation, the Emma and Joe Adams Foundation, carrying out the wishes that he and his friend shared years before Charles succumbed in 2004.
He is responsible for shepherding the legacy of Ray Charles and implementing the philanthropic goals that both men had.
It was Adams who presented Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science with a $1-million donation — the largest one-time individual gift in the school’s history in June. The money will be used to fund student scholarships and the donation comes from Joe Adams and his wife, Emma, and will establish the Adams Scholars, which will provide $10,000 to cover tuition for undergraduates based on their financial need.
Additionally, Adams is responsible for millions of dollars in ongoing contributions to Morehouse College and a recent $600,000 donation to Spellman College through his charitable foundations.
A Los Angeles native who was raised in Watts and proudly recalls his days as a student at Jordan High School, Adams spoke fondly of the influence he received from late Sentinel Publisher Col. Leon H. Washington.
“Yes Col. Washington gave me a lot of good advice back then,” Adams remembered.
Adams’ father was a local businessman who owned Gold’s Furniture store on Central Ave. during the late 1960s and 70s, and it was from him that Adams attained his keen sense for business and the astute value of money.
Adams was the son of an African American mother and Jewish father, and his parents were a rare interracial couple at the height of racial segregation and prejudice in the early 1900s.
During those days Adams was growing up in Watts when he began honing his talents to become a barrier breaker in radio broadcasting.
It was during this time at a young age that he realized he wanted to do what no African American dared dream of.
Adams wanted to become a radio announcer and practiced by shouting aloud in isolated parking lots.
Experiencing the brunt of racism growing up as a child, he was determined to not allow his black skin to prevent him from reaching his goal.
By the time he was a teenager he was the first African American on radio at Art Grogan’s owned Santa Monica Station KOWL, who gave Adams the opportunity to go on the air in the 1940s.
Within two years Adam's daily radio show was the #1 rated deejay show in Los Angeles. During an era when deejays were required to solicit their own sponsors, he attracted an incredible 56 paid advertisers to pay for airtime on KOWL, marking the beginning of an auspicious radio career that eventually spanned twenty years.
Adams branched out into television with two shows of his own, "Adams Alley" for KLAC with a cast of twenty-eight people, and "Joe Adams Presents." He was one of the pioneers of that era, hosting top-name stars and musical greats, among them was Charles.
He also enjoyed success as a film actor, appearing in more than 26 motion pictures. Among his most notable roles was Husky Miller in Carman Jones and as Frank Sinatra's psychiatrist in The Manchurian Candidate. His talent as an actor earned him the Foreign Correspondence Award as the Golden Globe Outstanding New Actor Award in 1958. He was the first African American man to win this award. He was a star long before he met Charles in 1958.
When Charles invited him to be the master of ceremonies during his world tour in 1961, Adams was already a well-known major network radio personality and accomplished actor.
Historically, Black performers had been controlled (and, too often, robbed) by white members of the music industry (agents, managers, accountants, lawyers), whose chief loyalty is to one another and not to their clients.
However, in Adams, Charles discovered a loyal man who was also polished in business and law. He was retired before he decided to join Charles on tour, but subsequently went on to serve as an adviser-manager and their relationship in business was much like a marriage.
Adams only could recall one time he had a disagreement with Charles; “We once had a mix-up that had something to do with a song, but I just left it alone and went on to New York and when I returned he told me that I was right,” he told the Sentinel in an exclusive interview.
Adams wasn’t just a trusted adviser and manager, but also the designer of all of his wardrobe, producer of shows and photographer.
Their relationship lasted through the singer’s death.
Some may scoff at the relationship that Adams and Charles had, but had it not been for Adams the success of the foundation would not be possible. “They needed each other more than anyone could ever imagine,” a confidant said.
Today, Adams looks on as President, Valerie Ervin for whom he and Ray Charles both trained, oversees and is in charge of RPM International, and supervises the many activities of the parent company, including its business holdings and publishing companies, including Tangerine and Racer Music; as well as Ray Charles Enterprises, which covers the activities of the Ray Charles Orchestra and the Raelettes.
Adams was at the helm of the Ray Charles Corporation until his retirement in 2008, he now serves as Chairman of the board appointed by Ray Charles.
Although the couple does not have any children, among their gifts was the establishment of the Emma and Joe Adams Public Service Institute at Morehouse College in Atlanta, which supports students who balance academic excellence with a commitment to community service.
As major individual donors to The Ray Charles Performing Arts Center, not only have they supported the facility financially with a $500,000 gift, they also are responsible for introducing Ray Charles to Morehouse and nurturing the relationship that yielded the vision for The Ray Charles Performing Arts Center. The facility’s concert hall is named after the couple.
The couple has already substantially contributed to building a lasting legacy at Morehouse.
Adams goes about his dignified life not looking for accolades or personal endorsements, but instead pondering how he can make the lives of those less fortunate better.
Asked about his friend Charles, and Adams says; “I miss him,” solemnly.
His friend would be proud to know that he is going about life, as he would have with him, all that’s missing is Charles being on tour and producing music.
For Adams it’s a void that can never be filled, but there is a mission in life ahead and one that will not be complete without Joe Adams.