Younger people know Ray Charles primarily from his Diet Pepsi commercials of a few years back: "You got the right one, baby. Un-huh!" Many probably have no idea of the scope of the influence of the smiling, blind, singing piano player seen in the 30-second spot. Charles, nicknamed "The Genius," will perform Friday at the Universal Amphitheatre.

Some critics have credited Charles, a charter member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, with virtually creating modern soul music. By blending elements of gospel, jazz and blues, he made music that was, as one critic said, "both sophisticated and spontaneous." His singing style has been imitated by countless others.

Although not the first R&B; artist to sing country-western songs, his 1962 "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music" album was a landmark recording.

By putting string and jazzy big band arrangements to the songs of Hank Williams, Don Gibson, Eddy Arnold and other country songwriters, Charles made sounds that bounded over several musical genres all at once. Charles' recording of Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You," from that album was a No. 1 single in 1962.

In 1994, Charles received his 12th Grammy for Best R&B; Vocal for his performance of "A Song for You." He also received a special Grammy, a Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1988.

* Ray Charles performs with a 41-piece orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza. Tickets are $15-$55. Call (213) 480-3232.


The joyful sounds of gospel music will be at Six Flags Magic Mountain this Saturday. With no additional charge to its usual admission, the park will present concerts by several gospel music performers including Yolanda Adams, Daryl Coley, the Mississippi Mass Choir and the Crenshaw Christian Choir.

The Rev. Daryl Coley, pastor of the Love Fellowship Tabernacle in Los Angeles, has been Grammy-nominated three times throughout his career, most recently for his album, "When the Music Stops," in 1993.

Yolanda Adams' "Save the World" was on Billboard's Gospel charts for 61 weeks, and Grammy-nominated for best contemporary soul gospel album in 1994.

* Six Flags Magic Mountain's Fall Gospel Celebration will be Saturday. Wristbands for guaranteed seating at the concerts will be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis as patrons enter the park. The park opens at 10 a.m., so get there early. Each guest will get one ticket for each concert. Park admission is $31 general, $15 children, $19 seniors, children 2 and younger are free. Call (805) 255-4111.


The Autry Museum of Western Heritage will screen a film Sunday that has been praised for its depiction of Native Americans in the Old West. Director Arthur Penn's "Little Big Man" (1970) stars Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb, the only white survivor of the Little Big Horn, who recounts his life among the whites and the Cheyenne. Calder Willingham received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay based upon a novel by Thomas Berger.

In 1990, a Times film critic praised the film, saying that it "mixes tones eerily: from robust comedy to violent hysteria to a melancholy, intensely moving close."

* "Little Big Man" (1970) screens at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 4700 Western Heritage Way. Admission is $5 Saturday, $3 Sunday. Call (213) 667-2000, Ext. 317.

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