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VINTAGE ALBANY-Notable Albanians Part One

By   /   June 18, 2012  /   Comments

 

L-R, Young Ray (Ragsdale) Stevens playing a piano in an Albany Steak house in the mid 1950s, Wallingford Riegger in Germany in 1930, Everette and young Harry James circus photo in 1922.

 

A lot of famous people were either born in Albany or lived here including the “three Rays” (Charles, Stevens and Knight). Albany has been home at one time or another to many actors/actresses, singers, artists, athletes and composers.

Singer and composer Ray Charles (Robinson) was born in Albany in 1930, the family moved to Greenville, Florida while Charles was still a child. Charles did not go completely blind until the age of seven. He attended the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind where he was taught to play classical piano. He soon discovered a preference for jazz and the blues and went on to become internationally famous. Charles did not forget his birthplace and even left a sizeable sum of money to Albany State University upon his death.

Ray Stevens (Harold Ray Ragsdale) was born in Clarksdale, Georgia in 1939. Stevens moved to Albany when he was about 10 years old. Stevens remained in Albany for about 7 years before moving to Atlanta. Stevens started taking piano lessons at the age of seven and by the time he was 15 he was already in his own band here called the Barons. The band played at parties and events all over the area. Stevens returned to Albany to an AHS class of 1957 50th reunion in 2007.

MLB player Charles Ray Knight was born in Albany in 1952. Knight played for several major league teams, later he worked as a broadcaster at ESPN and as a coach. Knight still lives in Albany part of the time with his wife; golfer Nancy Lopez.

Albany was also the birthplace of trumpet player and big band leader of the 1940s, Harry Haag James. James’ parents worked for the Christy Brothers circus. James was born during a visit to Albany in 1916. James was reportedly born in the St. Nicolas Hotel on Washington Street, which is now the Transition Center. His father, Everette James was the bandleader for the circus from 1919 until 1930 and also played the trumpet. Harry James was once married to the actress Betty Grable.

Wallingford Constantine Riegger was born in Albany in 1885. His father owned a lumber mill here. Three years after Riegger was born the mill burned down and his family moved away. Riegger later attended the Institute of Musical Art which became what is now known as the Julliard School of Music. Riegger became a well known symphony orchestra composer of modern dance music. He also did the music scores for Hollywood films. One of Rieggers’ shorter compositions entitled “Dance Rhythms,” premiered here in the Albany Municipal Auditorium on March 4, 1955 and was performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thor Johnson as part of the Albany Community Concert series. Riegger had lived and traveled abroad in Europe for many of his younger years. He studied music and lived in Germany up until the start of WWI. During the McCarthy era in the 1950’s, Riegger had been called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee about communism in the music industry and his perceived “leftist “leanings. Riegger refused to answer any questions saying his was his right as an American to do so. Riegger died in New York City in 1961 after a bizarre accident. He tripped over the tangled leashes of two dogs that had gotten into a fight. He fell and suffered a brain injury and did not recover.

Actress Victoria Principal, of the TV show “Dallas”, was born in Japan but her mother was from Georgia and her father was an Air Force sergeant and he was stationed at Turner Air Force base in the 1960’s. Victoria attended Albany schools briefly while she lived here. Like Principal, singer Patti Labelle was not born in Albany but did stay here often with relatives that lived in the area.

 

 

Betty Rehberg is the historian for the Albany Journal and maintains a group on Facebook called Vintage Albany Georgia.

 

 

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