My husband, Emmy-winning arranger, composer, and orchestrator Jon Charles, died on December 28, 2016. Jon's passion for music was matched only by his love for humanity. I founded the Jon Charles Memorial Fund at AID STILL REQUIRED to marry those two passions and honor his memory.
Aid Still Required, an international non-profit organization operating primarily in Haiti, partners with educators and health care providers to serve communities devastated by natural disasters and human crises. ASR’s Whole Community Approach provides pathways to self-sufficiency for people in Haiti's most vulnerable communities.
With the help of the Jon Charles Memorial Fund, ASR delivers children's choral and dance classes in its schools and community centers, as well as healthcare and social services, K-6 education, secondary school tuition, after school and summer school programs, and adult vocational skills training - including training in tile setting and home construction and driver education.
No US personnel are paid out of donor contributions. 100% of your donation goes directly to program operations in Haiti where ASR employs over 80 Haitian people, serves 1000 daily program participants, and serves another 4000 recurrent participants who receive in-home medical and social services and visit mobile clinics at regular intervals.
Your donation honors Jon Charles and restores hope for impoverished people in Haiti. Please select "The Jon Charles Memorial Fund Programs" in the pull down menu.
Jon was born and raised in Great Neck, New York, surrounded by musicians: his father, choral arranger and composer The Other Ray Charles, his uncle, drummer Bobby Rosengarden, and his concert pianist mother Bernice.
Instead of playing catch with his father, Jon tagged along on recording dates and TV show tapings. During one such recording session, 17-year-old Jon played impromptu piano on the Ray Charles Singers’ 1964 hit “Love Me With All Your Heart.” (The song went to #1 on Pop-Standard Singles, #2 on Cashbox, #3 on Variety, and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart).
Jon studied drums, vibraphone, and piano from an early age. He commuted from Long Island to Manhattan to attend the renowned (High) School of Performing Arts and later studied percussion under George Gaber at Indiana University. From 1966-68, he served stateside in the US Army, playing drums and percussion and arranging music for the 528th, 19th, and 440th Army Bands.
After being honorably discharged, he became Chief Arranger for The Dick Cavett Show, a roll he filled for the show's entire original six-year run. Arranging for both the nighttime and daytime shows, Jon wrote charts for hundreds of luminaries including Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, and Groucho Marx.
In 1974, Jon moved to California, settling in Pasadena, where he worked in TV variety. For thirty years, he served as Chief Arranger for the Grammy Awards under Music Director Jack Elliott. Variety shows for which he arranged included the Emmy Awards; Academy Awards; Kennedy Center Honors; The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years; Comic Relief; A Capitol Fourth; and many more.
Jon shared three Primetime Emmy Awards with the Dick Cavett Show team (1968-69, 1971-72, and 1973-74). He shared an additional five Primetime Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Music Direction for his contributions to The Kennedy Center Honors (1986, 1989, and 1990); The Stars Salute the US Olympic Team (1984); and Perry Como’s Christmas in Paris (1983).
Jon was also Music Arranger for the four-season run of the syndicated Sha-Na-Na television series (96 shows, 1977-1980). Sha-Na-Na was a family affair, with Jon Charles serving as Co-Music Director alongside his father Ray during the first season, then taking the reins for the remaining three seasons. Jon’s sister, Wendy Charles Acey worked as a production assistant on Sha-Na-Na.
For eight seasons, Jon worked as an orchestrator for the hit television series American Idol. He also arranged for episodic TV including Mike Hammer (series/movies of the week), thirtysomething, Home Front (all episodes), Picket Fences (all episodes), The Practice, Superman (animated), and Casper (animated).
Because of his finely-honed ability to hear the individual parts in an orchestral piece, Jon was often hired to re-create arrangements from vinyl records when the original charts had been lost. He did this for the Count Basie band among others.
One of his favorite gigs was re-creating arrangements from the iconic 1961 album, Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, for Rufus Wainwright and a 36-piece orchestra. In June 2006, Wainwright performed the tribute concert – Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall – to two sold-out Carnegie Hall audiences, followed by a world tour. The resulting live album earned a 2009 Grammy Nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal.
Films for which Jon orchestrated/arranged include Racing With The Moon, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Selena, and Falling In Love for composer Dave Grusin; My Week with Marilyn for composer Conrad Pope; Forrest Gump and Clean Slate for composer Alan Silvestri, and The Jerk for composer Jack Elliott. He also composed the music for Shut Up, I’m Crying, a 1971 Oscar nominee for Best Short Subject.
Jon arranged for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr., on the 1988 Together Again tour. In 2001, he arranged for Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Brooke Shields, and the cast of Muppetfest Gala, the first-ever LIVE Muppet performance.
He also wrote charts for Steve Allen, Julie Andrews, Louis Armstrong, Ruth Brown, Peabo Bryson, Vikki Carr, Kristin Chenoweth, Joe Cocker, Andrae Crouch, Michael Feinstein, Nnenna Freelon, Dave Frishberg, Maurice Hinds, Bob Hope, Dick Hyman, Whitney Houston, Al Jarreau, Kermit the Frog, k.d. lang, Annie Lennox, Monica Mancini, Audra McDonald, Michael McDonald, The Pointer Sisters, Rachael Price, Seal, Dr. Seuss, Phoebe Snow, Curtis Stigers, The Three Sopranos, Carrie Underwood, Lee Ann Womack, and thousands of others.
Jon loved arranging for big bands and larger ensembles and wrote for the Buddy Rich Band, Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Band, the National Symphony, American Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra, Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, Hollywood Pops Orchestra, Pasadena Pops Orchestra, and Los Angeles Pentacostal Community Choir.
During the summers of 1979, 1980, and 1981, Jon went on the road as Music Director and Conductor for three different burlesque shows that were taped for HBO: Here It Is, Burlesque (with Ann Corio, Morey Amsterdam, and Pinky Lee); Burlesque U.S.A. (with Red Buttons); and With A Touch Of Burlesque (with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca).
Jon composed two musicals with screenwriter John Leone: The Big Favor and The Unified Field. The latter, about the life and work of Albert Einstein, was performed at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1987. He also collaborated with Joanna Miles on the musical Feathers. In 1998, Jon orchestrated the musical Hot Shoe Shuffle (re-written with original songs by Megan Cavalari and David Goldsmith) for its US premier at Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars. He also provided arrangements for many of Princess Cruises' shipboard productions.
Jon's generosity and love of community service were legendary. Over the course of his 50-year career he provided pro bono music arranging and conducting for countless charitable events and non-profit organizations including the Betty Clooney Foundation, SHARE, S.T.A.G.E, and the Henry Mancini Institute.
He was a past President of the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC), served on ASMAC's Board of Directors for over 27 years, and was a recipient of the ASMAC Honors Our Own Award. He was the President of CAFA (Composers and Arrangers Foundation of America) from 1994 to 2016.
From 2004-2016, Jon also served on the Board of the United Nations Association Pasadena/Foothills Chapter where he held multiple offices, including Co-President.
Along with wife Maureen, Jon ran marathons for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society from 2003-2016, raising over $120,000 for cancer research. He ran his last half-marathon just three weeks before he died at age 70.
An LA Times obituary described Jon as "arranger, composer, musician, late-blooming marathoner, master of the humorous aside, devoted husband, quirky sibling, hail-fellow-well-met, a true one-of-a-kind individual of great talent and generosity of spirit, part elf, part stand-up comic, joyful and witty, loyal and enthusiastic, loving, unique and full of life."
Like Maureen, he loved cats. He also baked the world's greatest cheesecake.