“I can’t play piano like Ray Charles,” Darius Rucker sings in his new hit, “My Masterpiece.”

And while the Hootie & the Blowfish frontman did work on his skills tickling the ivories during the pandemic, his connection to the R&B legend — also famous for his country catalog — actually goes much deeper: Ray Charles was one of the first artists Darius ever saw perform live. 

“I think I saw Ray Charles when I was really young, and I remember that being great,” Darius recalls. “But it was tough for us because we didn’t have a lot of money to do a lot of stuff like that. We didn’t get to go to a lot of shows when people came to town and everything.”

It was another soul legend, however, that let Darius know he had to pursue a life onstage. In fact, Darius still gets so excited today, it’s hard for him to find the words to tell the story.

“I remember, I guess, being in the seventies and seeing Frankie Beverly and Maze live and thinking, ‘God, I want to play,"” he explains. “It was really the first time I… remember being [at] a place where it meant something to me. And, you know, I was I was 10 or 11 or 12 or something.”

“And I’m watching it and going,” he continues,” “‘…Everybody’s up there playing an instrument. They’re all playing together… I have to do this. God put me here to do that."”

It’s a mission Darius still takes seriously, as he plans his 12th annual Darius & Friends benefit concert August 17 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to help St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Tickets go on sale this Friday. 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.