The Times' Calendar section has quietly brought back the feature where readers can ask a question of the paper's critics. On p. 66 of today's Weekend Calendar, and online, rock critic Robert Hilburn was asked the back story on Frank Sinatra's quote calling Ray Charles the "only" genius. In his answer, Hilburn warns to be skeptical of one celebrity heaping praise on another, then adds:
In reading Sinatra biographies, the singers that seem to be cited repeatedly — either as personal favorites or ones who shaped his style — are Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday.
All that said, he may well have called Ray Charles a genius, and I'd back him up, because Charles in the '50s and '60s made contributions to popular music that are likely to live forever — first the merging of gospel and R&B into soul music and then establishing a bond between soul and country that enriched both genres.
Ask a Critic is set up outside the subscriber-only wall at CalendarLive. But it only grabs a little bit of real estate on the main page. You have to click to find out if the question du jour interests you.