ay Charles has the distinction of being both a national treasure and an international phenomenon. He started out from nowhere; years later finds him a global entity.

Hundreds of thousands of fingers have hit typewriter and word processor keyboards telling and retelling his story because it is uniquely American, an exemplar of what we like to think is the best in us and of our way of life.

 The Ray Charles story is full of paradoxes, part and parcel of the American Dream.

Rags to riches. Triumph overcoming tragedy. Light transcending darkness.

The name Ray Charles is on a Star on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame. His bronze bust is enshrined in the Playboy Hall of Fame. There is the bronze medallion cast and presented to him by the French Republic on behalf of its people. There are the Halls of Fame: Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll. There are the many gold records and the 12 Grammys...

There is the blackness and the blindness. There was the extreme poverty; there was the segregated South into which he was born. text arrow img

It is music, Ray Charles' single driving force, that catapulted a poor, black, blind, orphaned teenager from there to here.

"I was born with music inside me. That's the only explanation I know of..." he remarks in his autobiography.

"Music was one of my parts... Like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me - like food or water."

"Music is nothing separate from me. It is me... You'd have to remove the music surgically."

Ray Charles Robinson was not born blind, only poor.

The first child of Aretha and Baily Robinson was born in Albany, GA, on September 23, 1930.

He hit the road early, at about three months, when the Robinsons moved across the border to Greenville, FL. It was the height of the Depression years. And the Robinsons had started out poor.

"you hear folks talking about being poor," Charles recounts. "Even compared to other blacks. . . we were on the bottom of the ladder looking up at everyone else. Nothing below us except the ground."

It took three years, starting when Ray Charles was four, for the country boy who loved to look at the blazing sun at its height, the boy who loved to try to catch lightning, the boy who loved to strike matches to see their fierce, brief glare, to travel the path from light to darkness.

But Ray Charles has almost seven years of sight memory - colors, the things of the backwoods country, and the face of the most important person in his life: his mother, Aretha Robinson. text arrow img

St. Augustine's was the Florida state school for the deaf and blind. Ray Charles was accepted as a charity student.

He learned to read Braille and to type. He became a skilled basket weaver. He was allowed to develop his great gift of music.

He discovered mathematics and its correlation to music. He learned to compose and arrange music in his head, telling out the parts, one by one.

He remained at St. Augustine's until his mother's death when he set out "on the road again" for the first time as a struggling professional musician.

The road to greatness was no picnic, proverbial or literal. In fact, while earning his dues around and about Florida, he almost starved at times, hanging around at various Musicians' Locals, picking up gigs when he could.

He began to build himself a solo act, imitating Nat "King" Cole. When he knew it was time to head on, he asked a friend to find him the farthest point from Florida on a map of the continental U.S.

Seattle, WA. For Ray Charles, the turning point.

In Seattle he became a minor celebrity in local clubs. There he met an even younger musician, Quincy Jones, whom he took under his wing, marking the beginning of an inter-twining of two musical lifetimes...

It was from Seattle that he went to Los Angeles to cut his first professional recording. And it was in Seattle, with Gossady McGee, that he formed the McSon Trio -- Robin (son) and (Mc) Gee -- in 1948, the first black group to have a sponsored TV show in the Pacific Northwest. text arrow img

Along the way he'd shortened his name in deference to the success of "Sugar" Ray Robinson.

As Ray Charles, he toured for about a year with Lowell Fulsom's band. He formed a group and played with singer Ruth Brown. He played the Apollo, the landmark showcase for black talent. He aspired to Carnegie Hall, then as now epitomizing the pinnacle of artistic success.

These were also the years that brought Charles the first band of his own, his first big hit record, "I Got A Woman."

By the early 1960's Ray Charles had accomplished his dream. He'd come of age musically. He had become a great musician, posting musical milestones along his route.

He'd made it to Carnegie Hall. The hit records ("Georgia," "Born to Lose") successively kept climbing to the top of the charts. He'd made his first triumphant European concert tour in 1960 (a feat which, except for 1965, he's repeated at least once a year ever since).

He'd treated himself to the formation of his first big band in 1961. In 1962, together with his long time friend and personal manager, Joe Adams, he oversaw construction of his own office building and recording studios in Los Angeles, RPM International.

He had taken virtually every form of popular music and broken through its boundaries with such awe inspiring achievements as the LP's "Genius Plus Soul Equals Jazz" and "Modern Sounds in Country & Western."

Rhythm & blues (or "race music" as it had been called) became universally respectable through his efforts. Jazz found a mainstream audience it had never previously enjoyed. And country & western music began to chart an unexpected course to general acceptance, then worldwide popularity. Along the way Ray Charles was instrumental in the invention of rock & roll. text arrow img

In 1966 Thomas Thompson wrote in his profile of Ray Charles for Life:

"...his niche is difficult to define. The best blues singer around? Of course, but don't stop there. He is also an unparalled singer of jazz, of gospel, of country and western.

"He has drawn from each of these musical streams and made a river which he alone can navigate."

His music is still marked by the unpredictability that is the genius of consummate artistry.

He is master of his soul, musically and personally.

To this day he selects and produces his own recording material with utter disregard for trends. He doesn't find the time nor necessity to write as much as he once did, but what he gleans, "from the attic of my mind, " either old or new, is inevitably suprising, unique, "right."

In the past decade he has taken on George Gershwin ("Porgy and Bess"), Rodgers and Hammerstein ("Some Enchanted Evening," "Oh What a Beautiful Morning") and "America the Beautiful" -- all with resounding, if unexpected, success.

Despite his intense reticence to expose the personal portion of his life to public scrutiny, Ray Charles is as outspoken about his opinions on matters of global interest as he is about matters of music.

As a Southern Black, segregation was Ray Charles' dubious birthright. But racial tension and friction were not a part of his early rural years. At St. Augustine's the rules of segregation were strictly adhered to, both for the deaf and the blind children, a fact that even young Ray Charles found ironic.

"I knew being blind was suddenly an aid. I never learned to stop at the skin. If I looked at a man or a woman, I wanted to see inside. Being distracted by shading or coloring is stupid. It gets in the way. It's something I just can't see." text arrow img


It was on the road in the 1950's that the realities of segregation, its evils, its injustices, even its ludicrous moments, became apparent to Charles and his troupe of traveling musicians.

It was a concert day in Augusta, GA that brought the issue of segregation vs. civil rights to a head for Ray Charles.

"A promoter insisted that a date we were about to play be segregated: the blacks upstairs and the whites downstairs.

"I told the promoter that I didn't mind segregation, except that he had it backwards. . . After all, I was black and it only made sense to have the black folk close to me. . . Let him sue. I wasn't going to play. And I didn't. And he sued. And I lost."

This was the incident that propelled Ray Charles into an active role in the quest for racial justice, the development of social consciousness that led him to friendship with and moral and financial support of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960's.

"...early on, I decided that if I was going to shoot craps on anyone's philosophy, I was putting my money on Martin Luther King Jr.

"I figured if I was going to pick up my cross and follow someone, it could only be Martin."

Despite his deep commitment to King and the cause of black Americans, Charles came to the logical conclusion that there was no place for him physically in the front lines:

"First, I wouldn't have known when to duck when they started throwing broken bottles at my head. And I told that to Martin personally.

"When he intentionally broke the law, he was hauled off to jail. And when you go to jail, you need money for lawyers, for legal research, for court fees, for food for the marchers. I saw that as my function; I helped raise money." text arrow img

His awareness of racial injustice was not limited to the home front: The same years he fought the war against racial injustice in the American South found in Charles a growing awareness of racial injustice abroad, particularly the notorious policy of apartheid in South Africa.

Modest to the point of mum about his humanitarian and charitable activities, Ray Charles makes an exception for the State of Israel and world Jewry.

Among the many, the world leader Charles has most enjoyed meeting is David Ben-Gurion, with whom he had a conversation of many hours during a concert tour of Israel not long before Ben-Gurion's death.

And the award among the hundreds he claims to have touched him the most is the Beverly Hills Lodge of B'nai Brith's tribute to its "Man of the Year" in 1976.

"Even though I'm not Jewish," he explains," and even though I'm stingy with my bread, Israel is one of the few causes I feel good about supporting.

"Blacks and Jews are hooked up and bound together by a common history of persecution. . .

"If someone besides a black ever sings the real gut bucket blues, it'll be a Jew. We both know what it's like to be someone else's footstool."

But it all comes back to music, so inseparable from Ray Charles.

He keeps rolling along, doing what he does uniquely and wondrously well.

Ray Charles is a national treasure and a global phenomenon for this reason:

He is music; he is himself; he is a master of his soul. TEXT NOTE

 

 

 

My Early Years
1930-1960

hen I was a kid three years old, I was already trying -- whenever I heard a note -- I was already trying to involve myself with it. There was this wonderful man named Wylie Pitman who was one of the first people to encourage me. As a youngster I would jump in the chair next to him and start banging on the piano keys while he was trying to practice. And he would say, "Oh no, son, you don't play like that; you don't hit the keys with all your fingers at one time. I'm going to show you how to play a little melody with one finger." He could have easily said, "Hey kid, don't you see I'm practicing? Get away, don't bother me." But instead he took the time to say, "No, you don't do it that way." When Mr. Pitman started playing, whatever I was doing I'd stop to go in and sit on that little stool chair he had there.

Things started changing fast shortly after that. I guess the first major tragedy in my life was seeing my younger brother drown when I was about five years old. He was about a year younger, and a very smart kid. I remember that well; he was very bright. He could add and subtract numbers when he was three-and-a-half years old. The older people in the neighborhood, they used to say about him, "That boy is too smart. He's probably not going to be very long on this earth." You know old folks, the superstitions they have.

Anyway, we were out in the backyard one day while my mom was in the house ironing some clothes. We were playing by a huge metal washtub full of water. And we were having fun the way boys do, pushing and jostling each other around. Now, I never did know just how it happened, but my brother somehow tilted over the rim of this tub and fell down, slid down into the water and slipped under. At first I thought he was still playing, but it finally dawned on me that he wasn't moving, he wasn't reacting. I tried to pull him out of the water, but by that time his clothes had gotten soaked through with water and he was just too heavy for me. So I ran in and got my mom, and she raced out back and snatched him out of the tub. She shook him, and breathed into his mouth, and pumped his little stomach, but it was too late.

It was quite a trauma for me, and after that I started to lose my sight. I remember one of the things they tried to save my sight for as long as they could was to have my mama keep me away from too much light. It took me about two years to completely lose all sight, but by the time I was seven, I was completely blind. That's when I went to St. Augustine's school for the blind.

Strangely enough, losing my sight wasn't quite as bad as you'd think, because my mom conditioned me for the day that I would be totally blind. When the doctors told her that I was gradually losing my sight, and that I wasn't going to get any better, she started helping me deal with it by showing me how to get around, how to find things. That made it a little bit easier to deal with. My mother was awful smart, even though she'd only gotten to fourth grade. She had knowledge all her own; knowledge of human nature, plus plenty of common sense.

As long as I can remember, music has always been something extraordinary in my life. It's always been something that completely captured my attention -- from the time I was three, when Mr. Pitman was showing me these little melodies. My first love was the music I heard in the community: blues, church gospel music, and country and western. That's why I love country and western today, because I heard a lot of it when I was a kid. My mom would let me stay up to listen to the Grand Old Opry on Saturday night. That's the only time I got to stay up late. I heard the blues played by Muddy Waters and Blind Boy Phillips and Tampa Red and Big Boy Crudup. And of course every night if you listened to the right station, you might pick up a little Duke Ellington or Count Basie. But the bulk of what I heard of blues in those days was called "race music," which became rhythm and blues, and rhythm and blues later was called soul music.

When I got to school I couldn't get into the piano class because it was full. That's when I took up the clarinet. I was a great fan of Artie Shaw, so I started playing a reed instrument. Later I was able to get into the piano class. Music teachers in those days were a lot different from teachers today; it was a different thing all together. When I came up, you didn't have jazz appreciation like you have today; you studied classical music. With blind kids, as opposed to sighted kids, when you study music you must read the music with your fingers. I'd read three or four bars of music with my fingers, and then play it. You can't just sit there and play as you're reading the music. You have to first learn the bars of music, practice it, and then play it and memorize it.

The name of the game was to know your lesson when it was due and I studied like everybody else. Even in my other classes, I always felt that it was important to know what you were supposed to do and have your lessons down, or at least have a working relationship with the music. I was just an ordinary student; I was not exceptional like some students. The only problem I had with my teachers was that when I was supposedly practicing my lesson, a lot of times I'd be playing jazz. Of course, the teacher would catch me, and that didn't go over too well. She'd say, "What the hell are you doing boy; what's the matter with you; you lost your mind? Get to your lessons." Classical music to me was a means to an end. In other words, I wanted to learn how to arrange and I wanted to know how to write music, and in order to do that I had to study classical music. But I wanted to play jazz, and I wanted to play blues -- that was my heart.

As a student, I was always playing music that somebody else wrote, and I got the idea in my mind that I would like to write music myself. The first time I wrote an arrangement and heard it played back to me, you can't imagine how excited I was. I mean, to write something and then have musicians play it back to you, and you hear it and you hear your ideas, your thoughts -- that was the most exciting thing to me. I was 12 years old when I first had that feeling and I've never forgotten that. It was at the St. Augustine's. We had a small orchestra, you understand. Keep in mind, this was a small school for the deaf and the blind, so you had maybe nine or 12 people in the band, something like that.

I wasn't quite 15 when my mama died. That was the most devastating thing in my whole experience -- bar nothing, period. It happened while I was away at school, and they didn't want to tell me about it. They just called me in to the principal's office and said that I needed to go home right away. When I got there I found out from Miss Mary Jane, a lady that helped my mom raise me and take care of me; she gave me the news. From that moment on, I was completely in another world. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep -- I was totally out of it. There's no way to describe how I actually felt. I was truly a lost child.

The big problem was I couldn't cry; I couldn't get the sorrow out of my system, and that made things worse. Now, there was an old lady in town we called Ma Beck. She was the kind of lady that --well, everybody in town used to say that if there was a heaven, she was certainly going to be there when she passed. Anyway, this elderly woman saw the trauma I was going through. So she took me aside one day and said, "Son, you know that I knew your mama. And I know how she tried to raise you. And I know she always taught you to carry on. I also know she told you she wanted you to know how to get around and be independent. Because she knew she wasn't always gonna be with you. Didn't she tell you that?"

I said, "Yes ma'am'" and started to tear up. And Ma Beck kept after me. "Well, then, you also know that your mamma didn't want you going around just doing nothing and feeling sorry for yourself, 'cause that's not the way she brought you up. Isn't that right?" I said, "Yes, ma'am," and more tears came out. Now this elderly lady, she knew everything about me, including my sorrow over my brother's death. She made me realize that it wasn't my fault, and told me that I couldn't go through life blaming myself.

That episode with Ma Beck shook me out of my depression. It really started me on my way. After that I told myself that I must do what my mom would have expected me to do. And so the two greatest tragedies in my life -- losing my brother and then my mom -- were, strangely enough, extraordinarily positive for me. What I've accomplished since then, really, grows out of my coming to terms with those events.

My mama had a friend that lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and after she died I went there to see this lady, whose name was Lena May Thompson, and her husband. They weren't any kin to me; they were just friends of my mama and when she passed they just took me in like I was their own child. They were wonderful people. I stayed in Jacksonville for a year or so working in little bands for musicians like Henry Washington. Whenever he would get a job, and if he could use me, I would work for four dollars a night. Later I went to Orlando, and it was the same thing. I would get jobs with a fellow named Joe Anderson, who had a band there. I stayed about a year before going to Tampa to work with a couple of bands there. I played for two fellows, Charley Brantley and Manzi Harris, and I even worked with a hillbilly band called The Florida Playboys. I learned how to yodel when I was with them.

During those years I was totally in love with Nat King Cole's music. I ate, slept, and drank everything Nat King Cole. I wanted to be like him because he played the piano and sang and put all those tasty little things behind his singing. That's what I wanted to do, so he became my idol. I practiced day and night to sound like Nat Cole, and I got pretty proficient at it, too. One morning I woke up and, still laying in bed, something said to me, "Where is Ray Charles? Who knows your name? Nobody ever calls you, they just say, 'Hey, kid, you sound like Nat Cole,' but they don't even know your name." I knew right then I was going to have to stop singing like Nat, but I was scared to because I could get jobs sounding like him. I finally told myself, "Ray, you have got to take a chance and sound like yourself -- period."

Work was very sparse. I might work a couple of nights and then no more for two weeks or three weeks -- whenever something came along. Hit and miss, really, that's what it was. I was very lucky in the sense that when I was going through those hard times, I was fortunate to run into some people like the Thompsons. Even in Tampa, I ran into two sisters name the Spencers. One of them, the oldest, was a music teacher and she just took a liking to me. I don't know; I guess she saw that I was out there struggling and blind. They took me into their home, fed and sheltered me, and gave me a few dollars to spend. Although I wasn't making any money, I didn't completely starve to death. I had a lot of days when I ate sardines and dried beans and bread to survive.

I was playing dance halls in different little cities like De Land, Florida, or St. Petersburg. It wasn't concerts in those days. These were dances you worked from 9:00 at night until 1:00 in the morning; four hours at least. You've got to realize, now, there was no such thing as nightclubs -- like Cheerios and the Blue Note. These were small places with one door, that means one way in and one way out. They might have had two or three windows. In one corner they might have been frying fish and selling beer and soda and stuff like that. The people were out there on the dance floor dancing, and the band was stuck back in the corner somewhere. We were usually in the back, so if any trouble broke out, we would make sure there was a window to climb out. These places were not nightclubs like you think of them where people come in and sit down, and they've got on their furs and have a drink. You came in, you came to dance and to drink your liquor, you ate your fish or chicken or whatever they were selling in there and that was it.

I was not the star, mind you; in those days, I was always with somebody else's band. If I was working in Charlie Brantley's band, he was the star. As a matter of fact, in Charlie Brantley's band I wasn't even the vocalist. Of course, they let me sing one or two songs before the show was over, but Charlie had his own singer, Clarence Jolly. Otherwise, I was just his piano player, and I was happy to do that because I needed the money. If he needed me to sing, I'd sing; if he wanted me to play the piano, that's what I did; if he wanted me to write an arrangement, I'd write an arrangement. Whatever it took to make a dollar. And, of course, I wrote some music during this period as well. For example, Joe Ellison's band played some of my music when I was with them.

Eventually, I got tired of Florida. I was working with these different bands and I had worked with The Florida Playboys, when I got the feeling one day -- just an impulse -- and I said to myself, I'm going to leave here because I'm not going anywhere, I'm not doing anything. I was too scared to go to a big city like New York or Chicago, but I wanted to go to a city that was a nice size and where I thought I wouldn't get swallowed up. So I said to a friend, Gosady McGee, "I want to go to a city. . .what would be the furthest city I could get to from Florida that's still a city." And that's how I wound up in Seattle. I saved what little money I could -- about $500 -- and finally took a bus from Tampa, Florida, to Seattle, Washington. The trip took me 5 days.

I wanted to form my own group; that was my whole thing back then. See, after my mama passed, I always worked with somebody, or rather for somebody. I'm not saying that was a bad thing, but I kept thinking that I just wasn't going anywhere. I was just getting a job here, getting a job there, and I got paid. Sometimes, I wouldn't even get paid. I wanted to have something of my own. I thought I wanted to have my own little trio.

When I first got to Seattle, I went down to where they were having a talent show. I was really too young, but I begged this guy to let me perform. He felt sorry for me and let me in. On this talent night, I sang my little song, which was heard by representatives of a place called the Elk's Club. See, on talent night you would have various club owners or club representatives come and see what the talent was. Anyway, the Elk's Club hired me for the weekend and they asked if I could get a trio together. Hell, I didn't know what I was talking about. I didn't even know anybody. I just felt that I could find somebody to play well.

As it turned out, I got my friend Gosady McGee and I found Milt Jarret, and we started practicing and I went to work in the Elk's Club. I worked there every weekend. The guitar player's name was McGee, and mine was Robinson, so we called it The McSon Trio. We had a nice little trio and that was the first thing I had that I could honestly say was mine. Every weekend we knew we would make something, and after I had worked there for five weekends or so, the guy at the Rocking Chair, which was a much nicer club, decided they wanted to hire us.

In those days, I lived on 20th Avenue. I had a little house, nothing fancy. We had an oil heater and I remember we went out to get kerosene to put in the damn heater. While I was living there, I bought the first little electric piano that came out -- that shows you how far back it goes. I didn't have much money, but I had the things I needed. I had a radio, but not a TV. It was a big radio with a record player in it.

During my time in Seattle, I met and worked with some musicians who later made names for themselves. There was a fellow named Bumps Blackwell who had a band. As I recall, he hired me to play a gig one night with him. There was a young guy named Quincy Jones in the band. I think we may have first met in a club -- maybe the 908 or the Black and Tan or the Elk's Club. It probably sounds like I'm making our meeting insignificant, but musicians just meet; it ain't no big deal. Quincy and I became very good friends because I could write music and he wanted to learn how to write. He would come over to my house in the morning, wake me up, and sit at the piano while I would show him how to do little things. That's how we became very close. I have always loved him and he's the same way now as he was as a kid -- just as sweet and nice.

I first met Jack Lauderdale of Swingtime Records when we were at the Rocking Chair. There was a private club upstairs -- that's where they would gamble at -- and downstairs was where we were working. Jack was there one night and he came downstairs and heard us playing. He said, "I'd like to sign you guys up to a contract. What would you think about that?" Oh, Man, I was so excited! "Wow! We're gonna get a record contract!" There was nothing about any advance or money up front. All the man said to me was the he was gonna record me, and we'd have a hit. I didn't even ask about the terms. All I knew was that I wanted to make a record; this was a big thing to me at that time. Jack was the first person I signed with, and I have to give him credit. I don't know what he heard, but he must have heard something -- because he recorded me in Seattle and then flew us down to record in L.A.

After arriving in Los Angeles around 1950, I made a record called "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand." It started making a little noise -- in the black community, of course -- and Swingtime thought it would be a good idea if Lowell Fulson and I went out on the road together as a package, 'cause Lowell had "Everyday I Had the Blues" and I had "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand." And so that's what we did.

When Lowell and I were on the road, we played the same kinds of dance halls, that I worked in down in Florida. We were working everyday on this tour, which was okay. Of course, in those days we put up with "the usual things." I didn't go into the Hilton Hotel, I didn't go into the Sheraton, I had to stay in rooming houses. I had to make sure I stopped at the right gas station, where they had restrooms for colored, and if I was hungry I couldn't stop at just any restaurant to eat, so if I was long distance between places and I saw a restaurant, I had to go around to the back door and let them hand me out sandwiches.

"Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand," was my first big hit on the radio, but I had heard myself before, singing my first record, "I Love You, I Love You" and "Confession Blues." To tell the truth, hearing my songs on the radio was no where near as exciting as making a record. I really wasn't that excited about hearing myself; I was more excited about making music. I did make some records for Swingtime where I sound like myself, where I wasn't trying to sound like Nat Cole. One of them was "Going to the River and Drown Myself," another was "Kiss Me, Baby." I was testing the waters then, just before I went to Atlantic. Even when I started recording for them, I made two or three records sounding like Nat Cole. After that, I finally told myself, "Stop this Nat Cole imitation...sink, swim, or die." Next I did "I Got a Woman" and it was a smash.

I made a big change professionally when Atlantic bought my contract from Swingtime. Originally, I didn't know anything about it. By the time I found out, Atlantic had already bought the rights from Jack. Naturally, buying my contract didn't mean anything if I didn't agree to go along, but Atlantic had the contract from Jack and, of course, it was all right with me. I didn't see anything wrong with it. Atlantic was very good to me. They didn't interfere with my music. they would say to me, "Okay, we want you to come in and record." Then they would send me different demos of music, and if I didn't like them I'd write something and record that instead. It just turned out that most of the things I wrote were successful, and Atlantic would just come in and pay the bill. It was unusual, really, because record companies in those days picked the music and the artist sang it and that's the ways it was done. I was lucky in the sense that even when I was starting out I went to companies that didn't interfere with what I wanted to record, even Swingtime would just say, "Well, kid, what do you got for us?" And that was it. For an artist, there are few things more rewarding than the freedom to do the things you want to do the way you want to do them.

I was with Atlantic from 1952 to 1959. I had control of what I was recording, so if I made any bad recordings or bad decisions I have to say it was strictly my own fault. Most of what we were doing in those days were singles; they were more popular than albums. I only did two albums on Atlantic. The first album was a jazz album I did with Quincy Jones, which had songs like "Doodlin'." The second album, The Genius of Ray Charles, Quincy wrote with Ralph Burns.

About that time -- still with my smaller band -- I was thinkin' I really wanted to introduce a girl sound to my music. Don't forget, I was raised in a Baptist church and I wanted my music to have a certain kind of feelin'. One night in 1957, I was in Philadelphia and there was a band playin' -- I forget who was playin' -- but I went to catch the band and on this show they had a second band performing called The Cookies. Well, The Cookies sounded pretty good to me. So the following week, we recorded together in New York, I think we did Swany River Rock. And it sounded so good, I asked them to work with me all the time. That's when The Cookies -- Margie Hendrix, Ethel (Darlene) McCrae and Pat Lyles -- became The Raelettes.

By 1959, my career was on the fast track. Although I didn't know it when I signed with ABC, things were about to start happening for me at a much faster pace then I ever thought possible when I was a kid back at the St. Augustine's school. But that's another story, for another time.

 

Ray Charles reflects on Jazz, Rock 'n Roll, Soul and his composing...


 

Ray Reflects On...

Jazz Appreciation

I cannot understand how we as Americans, possessing such a rich heritage of music and the artists who play it, don't recognize all those talented people. It's a shame that so many of today's young people don't know the work of Art Tatum or Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker or Clifford Brown, to name a few. They are the creators; they are the artists who helped form the backbone of our country's popular music.... When you talk about, say, classical music, you're talking about a form that came from Europe and European composers and musicians from an earlier time. But, we basically created jazz in this country, we own that form of music. And it's sad that we all don't have more extensive knowledge of that fact.... In Europe, though, you find people who know all about our music. I'm talking about the average person. I've been to Europe and talked to people who have records of mine that I forgot I ever made! And I find that incredible.

 

Ray Reflects On...

The Origins of Rock

Basically, rock 'n' roll came into being when white artists and white bands started covering black music. That seems like a blunt way of putting it, and it may sound like I'm a racist, but I'm not; that's just the best way to explain it.... It started in the '50s, when you had popular singers like Pat Boone and Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins covering black music. They were doing songs first recorded by people like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. They just took rhythm-and-blues songs and did their own versions of them. And that sound became known as rock 'n' roll. I don't know exactly who came up with that name, but that's pretty much the way it went down.... When Elvis came along, he not only covered the music, but he was...well, he was moving his body on stage just like a black artist would. Now, in those days a black artist couldn't get away with doing that on stage for the teenagers of America, but Elvis got away with it. He was criticized at first, but he got away with it. He was just doing what he saw people doing down on Beale Street.

Ray Reflects On...

The Evolution of Soul

I don't think you could tag a certain year as the date that soul music appeared, because it didn't happen that way. It evolved over a period of time. Even today, you could ask five different people what it was and how it got started and get five different answers.... Originally, soul music had a strong element of the church, of spiritual music. It had a gospel music feeling, and then it incorporated the sound of blues music. That's soul's makeup: the fusion of gospel and blues, all mixed up together. It's the crossover of those forms of music that makes soul unique.... At first I got some criticism for playing soul music. Women sent me letters, accused me of being sacrilegious because they could pick out that gospel music was being incorporated into something that went beyond the sound they heard in church every week. They didn't realize at first how spiritual soul music could be.... And there were people who objected to soul being played on the radio because of the depth of feeling in the music. Some people thought it was too suggestive, and some thought it was just plain vulgar. But the feeling that comes through in the music --that's the essence of soul -- the word itself tells you that.


 

Ray Reflects On...

His Composing

Learning to read music in Braille and play by ear helped me develop a damn good memory. I can sit at my desk and write a whole arrangement in my head and never touch the piano. I bring in a sighted person and I dictate the notes, what kind of notes, where they're supposed to be, for what instrument, whether there's an F, whether it's a quarter note, whether it's an eighth note, a dotted quarter or whatever. I dictate the notes right here at my desk, and I never move because I play the piano, so I know what the chords are going to be.

I know what the structure is, I know how I want it to sound, and I can hear it in my head. But I have to remember what I had the reed section doing, what I had the trumpet section doing, and so on. If you're going to write an arrangement you've got to remember all those things....

I've never written or arranged anything I was unhappy with later. I know that sounds pretty boastful, but I've got to be truthful. Understand, now, that 99 percent of all arrangers play some piano. Piano is the basic thing to write music with. Since I am a pianist, I know which chords I want and what they are going to sound like, so it's up to me to make the decision on how I want the arrangement to sound. There's no reason for it to come out any different than the way it sounds in my head.

 

Ray Charles
charles.jpg (2910 bytes)

A multitalented blind black musician, Ray Charles pioneered soul music, which became enormously popular among both black and white audiences beginning in the late '50s. In secularizing certain aspects of gospel music (chord changes, song structures, call and response techniques, and vocal screams, wails, and moans) and adding blues based lyrics, he virtually invented a new genre of music.
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Born in 1930, Ray Charles (nee Ray Charles Robinson) in Albany, Georgia grew up in Greenville, Florida.  At age six he started to lose his sight from glaucoma after traumatically watching his brother drown in the washtub his mother used for take-in laundry. At the age of seven, from 1937 to 1945 he attended the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, where he learnedraychrls.jpg (5620 bytes) piano, and later clarinet and alto saxophone, compose for big bands, as well as learning to read and write music in Braile. Orphaned at fifteen, Charles struck out on his own performing in bands around Florida. In 1948 at the age of seventeen Charles took his $600 savings and moved to Seattle. There he formed the Maxim trio, a group grounded in the style of Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. The Maxim Trio had a major R&B hit in 1949 with "Confession Blues" on the Downbeat (later Swing Time) label. It was during this time that he first began using Heroin. Charles toured with blues artist Lowell Fulson in the early '50s, having R&B hits with "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" and "Kiss Me Baby" on the small Los Angeles based Swingtime Label.

 

In 1952 Atlantic Records purchased Charles's recording contract from Swingtime for $2500.   Charles give up the Nat "King" Cole stylization and began adapting gospel music techniques to blues lyrics. He soon had a hit with "It Should Have Been Me."  In 1954 raettes.jpg (2490 bytes)he arranged and played piano on Guitar Slim's top R&B hit "The Things I Used to Do" for Specialty Records and formed his own band. In 1955 Charles had a hit in both the R&B and pop fields with his own composition "I've Got a Woman." Using top flight studio musicians Charles had hits consistently on the R&B charts through the late '50s with "A Fool for You," "Drown In My Own Tears," :Hallelujah I Love Her So," and "Lonely Avenue," The recording debut of his female backup group the Raelettes. He also became popular with jazz fans, recording two highly acclaimed records and performing a set at the 1958 Newport Jazz festival in 1959. Charles established himself as a popular recording artist and a pioneer of soul music with the release of his own top R&B/pop hitraycharles1.jpg (26195 bytes) composition "What I Say."

Sensing that Atlantic was still basically an R&B organization, Charles moved to ABC-Paramount Records in late 1959. Through 1961, he had top pop hits with "Georgia On My Mind," "Hit the Road Jack," "Ruby," and "Unchain My Heart."He also recorded Genius + Soul = Jazz for Impulse (ABC's jazz subsidiary label), yielding a near smash pop/ top R&B hit with the instrumental "One Mint Julip," This album and one recorded with Betty Carter for ABC-Paramount brought him increasing popularity with jazz fans, black and white.

In 1962 Charles formed Ray Charles Enterprises, comprised of Tangerine Records, Tangerine Music, and Racer Music Company, opening studios and offices in Los Angeles in 1963. By then he was using forty piece orchestras and full vocal choruses for his recordings. With his full commercial sound, his Modern Sounds in Country and Western became phenomenally popular producing crossover smashes with "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Born to Lose," and "You Don't Know Me." Within a year raycharles.jpg (6245 bytes)volume two was released and had crossover hits "You Are My Sunshine," "Your Cheating Heart," and "Take These Chains From My Heart." On ABC Charles had major pop hits with "Busted," "That Lucky Old Sun," "Crying Time," and "Together Again."

During the 60s Charles became involved in films, appearing in the 1962 film Swinging Along, and the 1966 British film Ballad in Blue, and recording the soundtracks for The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and In the Heat of the Night (1967). By this time he was performing on the nightclub circuit, touring with his own package revue from 1969 into the '70s.

In 1973 Charles left ABC Records, retaining the rights to his ABC material and transferring his Tangerine operation to the new label Crossover. During 1976 he recorded Porgy and Bess with Cleo Laine for RCA Records. In 1977 he returned to Atlantic, moving to Columbia in the '80s and Warner Brothers in the '90s. In 1978 Dial Press published his autobiography and in 1980 appeared in The Blues Brothers movie and scored a minor country hit for his duet with Clint Eastwood, "Beers to You, from the film Any Which Way You Can. Charles had a major country hit with "Born To Love Me" in 1982 and later recorded duets with country stars on Friendship. The album yielded five country hits, including "We Didn't See a Thing" (with George Jones), "Seven Spanish Angels"( with Willie Nelson) and "Two Cats Like Us" (with Hank Williams JR,). Charles also played a major role in the recording of USA for Africa's "We Are the World" single in 1985.

1n 1989 Charles had his first major pop hit in over twenty years with "I'll Be Good to rcharl.jpg (7021 bytes)You," featuring himself and Chaka Khan. In the '90s Charles appeared in commercials for Pepsi and was the subject of a PBS documentary.

Ray Charles continues to work about eight months a year, touring with a large orchestra. He lives in Los Angeles where he is involved with RPM International, a corporation that includes Crossover Records, the music publishing companies Tangerine and Racer Music, and RPM Studios, where he records. In 1990 Charles began recording for Warner Brothers, recording in 1993 My World with Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Mavis Staples, and June Porter.

Charles was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1982.Charles was also inducted into the Rock and Roll's Hall of Fame in its inaugural year 1986.

Ray Charles

 

 

Ray Charles dies at 73

 

Thursday, June 10, 2004 Posted: 5:44 PM EDT (2144 GMT)
 

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BEVERLY HILLS, California (AP) -- Ray Charles, the Grammy-winning crooner who blended gospel and blues in such crowd-pleasers as "What'd I Say" and ballads like "Georgia on My Mind," died Thursday, a spokesman said. He was 73.

Charles died at his Beverly Hills home surrounded by family and friends, said spokesman Jerry Digney.

Charles' last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated the singer's studios, built 40 years ago in central Los Angeles, as a historic landmark.

Blind by age 7 and an orphan at 15, Charles spent his life shattering any notion of musical boundaries and defying easy definition. A gifted pianist and saxophonist, he dabbled in country, jazz, big band and blues, and put his stamp on it all with a deep, warm voice roughened by heartbreak from a hardscrabble childhood in the segregated South.

"His sound was stunning -- it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing -- it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing," singer Van Morrison told Rolling Stone magazine in April.

Charles won nine of his 12 Grammy Awards between 1960 and 1966, including the best R&B recording three consecutive years ("Hit the Road Jack," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Busted").

His versions of other songs are also well known, including "Makin' Whoopee" and a stirring "America the Beautiful." Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote "Georgia on My Mind" in 1931 but it didn't become Georgia's official state song until 1979, long after Charles turned it into an American standard.

"I was born with music inside me. That's the only explanation I know of," Charles said in his 1978 autobiography, "Brother Ray." "Music was one of my parts ... Like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me, like food or water."

Charles considered Martin Luther King Jr. a friend and once refused to play to segregated audiences in South Africa. But politics didn't take.

He was happiest playing music, smiling and swaying behind the piano as his legs waved in rhythmic joy. His appeal spanned generations: He teamed with such disparate musicians as Willie Nelson, Chaka Khan and Eric Clapton, and appeared in movies including "The Blues Brothers." Pepsi tapped him for TV spots around a simple "uh huh" theme, perhaps playing off the grunts and moans that pepper his songs.

"The way I see it, we're actors, but musical ones," he once told The Associated Press. "We're doing it with notes, and lyrics with notes, telling a story. I can take an audience and get 'em into a frenzy so they'll almost riot, and yet I can sit there so you can almost hear a pin drop."

Image
Ray Charles in concert in 2000.

Charles was no angel. He could be mercurial and his womanizing was legendary. He also struggled with a heroin addiction for nearly 20 years before quitting cold turkey in 1965 after an arrest at the Boston airport. Yet there was a sense of humor about even that -- he released both "I Don't Need No Doctor" and "Let's Go Get Stoned" in 1966.

He later became reluctant to talk about the drug use, fearing it would taint how people thought of his work.

"I've known times where I've felt terrible, but once I get to the stage and the band starts with the music, I don't know why but it's like you have pain and take an aspirin, and you don't feel it no more," he once said.

Ray Charles Robinson was born September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. His father, Bailey Robinson, was a mechanic and a handyman, and his mother, Aretha, stacked boards in a sawmill. His family moved to Gainesville, Florida, when Charles was an infant.

"Talk about poor," Charles once said. "We were on the bottom of the ladder."

Charles saw his brother drown in the tub his mother used to do laundry when he was about 5 as the family struggled through poverty at the height of the Depression. His sight was gone two years later. Glaucoma is often mentioned as a cause, though Charles said nothing was ever diagnosed. He said his mother never let him wallow in pity.

RAY CHARLES FACTS
Ray Charles had 32 chart hits, including three at No. 1: "Georgia" in 1960, "Hit the Road Jack" in 1961 and "I Can't Stop Loving You" in 1962

Source: Reuters
start quote"I was born with music inside me. That's the only explanation I know of. ... Music was one of my parts ... Like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me -- like food or water. ... Music is nothing separate from me. It is me. ... You'd have to remove the music surgically."end quote
-- Ray Charles, from his autobiography at raycharles.com

"When the doctors told her that I was gradually losing my sight, and that I wasn't going to get any better, she started helping me deal with it by showing me how to get around, how to find things," he said in the autobiography. "That made it a little bit easier to deal with."

Charles began dabbling in music at 3, encouraged by a cafe owner who played the piano. The knowledge was basic, but he was that much more prepared for music classes when he was sent away, heartbroken, to the state-supported St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Charles learned to read and write music in Braille, score for big bands and play instruments -- lots of them, including trumpet, clarinet, organ, alto sax and the piano.

"Learning to read music in Braille and play by ear helped me develop a damn good memory," Charles said. "I can sit at my desk and write a whole arrangement in my head and never touch the piano. .. There's no reason for it to come out any different than the way it sounds in my head."

His early influences were myriad: Chopin and Sibelius, country and western stars he heard on the Grand Ole Opry, the powerhouse big bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, jazz greats Art Tatum and Artie Shaw.

By the time he was 15 his parents were dead and Charles had graduated from St. Augustine. He wound up playing gigs in black dance halls -- the so-called chitlin' circuit -- and exposed himself to a variety of music, including hillbilly (he learned to yodel) before moving to Seattle.

He dropped his last name in deference to boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, patterned himself for a time after Nat "King" Cole and formed a group that backed rhythm 'n' blues singer Ruth Brown. It was in Seattle's red light district were he met a young Quincy Jones, showing the future producer and composer how to write music. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Charles developed quickly in those early days. Atlantic Records purchased his contract from Swingtime Records in 1952, and two years later he recorded "I Got a Woman," a raw mixture of gospel and rhythm 'n' blues, inventing what was later called soul. Soon, he was being called "The Genius" and was playing at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.

His first big hit was 1959's "What'd I Say," a song built off a simple piano riff with suggestive moaning from the Raeletts. Some U.S. radio stations banned the song, but Charles was on his way to stardom.

Veteran producer Jerry Wexler, who recorded "What'd I Say," said he has worked with only three geniuses in the music business: Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Charles.

"In each case they brought something new to the table," Wexler told the San Jose Mercury News in 1994. Charles "had this blasphemous idea of taking gospel songs and putting the devil's words to them. ... He can take a gem from Tin Pan Alley or cut to the country, but he brings the same root to it, which is black American music."

Charles released "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Volumes 1 and 2" in the early '60s, a big switch from his gospel work. It included "Born to Lose," "Take These Chains From My Heart (And Set Me Free)" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," some of the biggest hits of his career.

He made it a point to explore each medium he took on. Country sides were sometimes pop-oriented, while fiddle, mandolin, banjo and steel guitar were added to "Wish You Were Here Tonight" in the '80s. Jones even wrote a choral and orchestral work for Charles to perform with the Roanoke, Virginia, symphony.

Charles' last Grammy came in 1993 for "A Song for You," but he never dropped out of the music scene. He continued to tour and long treasured time for chess. He once told the Los Angeles Times: "I'm not Spassky, but I'll make it interesting for you."

"Music's been around a long time, and there's going to be music long after Ray Charles is dead," he told the Washington Post in 1983. "I just want to make my mark, leave something musically good behind. If it's a big record, that's the frosting on the cake, but music's the main meal

 

 

R&B music legend Ray Charles dies
 
Ray Charles
Charles performed 10,000 concerts during a 58-year career

 

 

 

 

 

Legendary US R&B musician Ray Charles has died aged 73 in Los Angeles.

Charles, considered a pioneer of soul music, died of acute liver disease, which was diagnosed after he had hip replacement surgery in December.

Soul diva Aretha Franklin described him as "a fabulous man" who introduced the world to "secular soul singing".

Michael Jackson said he was "a true legend - an American treasure", while Stevie Wonder praised "the genius of his talent of his music".

Charles, who went blind aged six, kept a largely low profile during a recent bout of ill health - but still managed to collaborate with other musicians.

His best-known songs included Georgia on My Mind, Hit the Road Jack and I Can't Stop Loving You.

I lost one of my friends and I will miss him a lot
 
Willie Nelson

 

The 12-time Grammy winner played his 10,000th concert on 23 May 2003 in Los Angeles.

More recently, he had worked on a CD of duets with performers such as Sir Elton John, Norah Jones and Johnny Mathis.

Family members and his manager were present when he died.

"Everybody knows him as the legend, the genius. I just knew him as my father, his loving way, his giving way," said his son, Reverend Robert Robinson.

Tributes have been left on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

"He was very straight forward. You knew where you stood. And he always gave great advice, just on life. He would talk to me just about life and what it was to be a man, a true man in this day and time, and that's what I appreciate."

Manager Joe Adams said Charles had planned to return to performing

"He was not recording. He was still listening to songs. He was still looking for material because he had every intention of coming back," said Mr Adams.

Born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany in the south-eastern state of Georgia on 23 September 1930, Charles went on to become one of America's most enduring musicians.

'The Genius'

After the disease glaucoma left him blind as a child, Charles was sent to a school for the deaf and blind in Florida, where he developed a lifelong talent and passion for music.

The young pianist later made his way to the north-western city of Seattle where he first performed as a solo act, modelling himself on the late musical legend Nat "King" Cole.

He was a master of many styles, dabbling in country, jazz, big band and blues.

Battling childhood poverty and adult drug addiction, his intense renditions of classic songs earned him the nickname The Genius.

People remember the big hits and the visual image of him, but they forget what an innovator he was in the 1950s as a jazz musician
 
Marty Stuart

His last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood on 30 April in Los Angeles.

The city has designated the singer's studios, built 40 years ago in the centre of the town, an historic landmark.

Charles died in his Beverly Hills home of complications of liver disease, according to his publicist, Jerry Digney.

'Great advice'

"It's devastating," Mr Digney told the AFP news agency. "He's been ailing for while now and it started out with a hip situation and went from there to other things, primarily the liver."

Tributes have also been pouring in from those who knew the man and his music.

"People remember the big hits and the visual image of him, but they forget what an innovator he was in the 1950s as a jazz musician," said country music singer Marty Stuart.

Fellow country music legend, Willie Nelson, said, "I lost one of my friends and I will miss him a lot."

And Hollywood's ceremonial mayor Johnny Grant, who officiates at Walk of Fame ceremonies, said: "The world has lost a true musical genius and I would have to say from what's happening down here on the Walk of Fame, one of the most popular musical person in the world.

"I have never seen news travel so fast and so many people get down to the Walk of Fame as they have today for Ray Charles."

 

Ray Charles, American Legend, Dies at 73
'Genius' Overcame Obstacles, Broke Down Musical Boundaries

audio iconWeb Extra: Rock Historian Ed Ward's Career Retrospective

 

Ray Charles
Soul music pioneer Ray Charles, 1930-2004.
Credit: Institute of Jazz Studies


Hear Ray Charles's 20 Top Hits Courtesy Rhino Records
From 'Anthology' (1990)

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Ray Charles and NPR's Marian McPartland
Ray Charles and NPR's Marian McPartland.
Credit: Vanguard Photography
1991


June 11, 2004 -- American musical icon Ray Charles died Thursday of complications from liver disease at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 73.

 

Known as "The Genius" since the early 1950s, Charles started out primarily as a jazz and blues pianist and singer in the style of his early musical idols such as Nat "King" Cole and pianist Charles Brown. But over his more than 50 years in show business, Charles built a career that defied genre, bringing his soulful voice, keyboard prowess and songwriting talent to the pop, country and R&B charts.

Among the first musicians to blend the emotional power of gospel music with secular themes, Charles won 12 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 1987. His songs "Hit the Road Jack," "What'd I Say" and "Georgia on My Mind" have become American classics. In 1986, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Ga., on Sept. 23, 1930, Charles grew up in Greenville, Fla. He contracted an unknown illness at the age of four that began to affect his eyesight and within three years, he was completely blind.

From 1937 to 1945, he attended a Florida school for the deaf and blind where he learned to read braille, repair -- and listen to -- radios, and play piano as well as clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and organ. After his mother died, he left school for Jacksonville at 15 to begin his career as a professional musician.

After several years, Charles moved to Seattle where he started his steady rise to fame -- and also became hooked on heroin. In 1949, Charles cut his first two singles, and after both became hits, he moved to Los Angeles in 1950. He toured the United States for several years as the musical director for blues guitarist Lowell Fulson.

Charles signed with Ahmet Ertegun's Atlantic Records in 1953 and then switched to ABC-Paramount in 1959, building an impressive track record of hits along the way. But in 1965, he was arrested for heroin possession and left music for a year to kick his habit.

He came back strong, beginning a touring regimen that had him on the road for much of the year. Throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s -- even into the new century, Charles continued that schedule, until earlier this year, when illness forced him to cancel several appearances.


 

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Web Resources

Rhino Records Tribute Web Page

raycharles.com

 

Ray Charles dead at 73

Influential singer, pianist called 'the Genius'

Friday, June 11, 2004 Posted: 4:16 PM EDT (2016 GMT)
 

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Ray Charles overcame blindness and poverty to become a pop music legend.
 
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FACT BOX
Ray Charles had 32 chart hits, including three at No. 1: "Georgia" in 1960, "Hit the Road Jack" in 1961 and "I Can't Stop Loving You" in 1962.

Charles on his family's poverty, from www.raycharles.com: "You hear folks talking about being poor ... Even compared to other blacks ... we were on the bottom of the ladder looking up at everyone else. Nothing below us except the ground."

Source: Reuters

(CNN) -- Ray Charles, the innovative singer and pianist whose combinations of blues and gospel pioneered soul music and earned him the nickname "the Genius," has died. He was 73.

Charles died at 11:35 a.m. (2:35 p.m. ET), in Beverly Hills, California, his publicist said. The cause was of complications from liver disease.

Charles was a towering figure in pop music history. The term "genius" came from Frank Sinatra -- no slouch in the singing department himself -- and others called him "the greatest pop singer of his generation" and "a true American musical original."

Singer Aretha Franklin said in a written statement, "a great soul has gone on."

"He was a fabulous man, full of humor and wit," she said. "A giant of an artist, and of course, he introduced the world to secular soul singing. Undoubtedly, the music world will miss his voice. He's the voice of a lifetime."

James Brown had high praise for his fellow artist.

"We lost a genius and we lost my brother," Brown said. "You've lost a cornerstone of good, and that hurts real bad."

It was Charles' blending of gospel and blues music on the 1954 recording of "I Got a Woman" -- created at a small radio station studio in Atlanta, Georgia -- which is often credited as the beginning of soul music.

But Charles was never one to pay attention to musical boundaries. Born in the Deep South, raised on gospel, blues, country, jazz and big band, he forged these disparate styles into something all his own.

"His sound was stunning -- it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing -- it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing," singer Van Morrison told Rolling Stone magazine in April.

Charles won 12 Grammy awards, including the best R&B recording three consecutive years ("Hit the Road Jack," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Busted"). His version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" was named the Georgia state song in 1979, and he lent his gravelly voice to songs ranging from "America the Beautiful" to "Makin' Whoopee" to the 1985 all-star recording of "We Are the World."

"I was born with music inside me. That's the only explanation I know of," Charles said in his 1978 autobiography, "Brother Ray." "Music was one of my parts ... like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me, like food or water."

Up the ladder

Ray Charles Robinson -- he later changed his name to avoid confusion with the noted boxer -- was born in Albany, Georgia, on September 23, 1930. His father was a handyman; his mother stacked boards in a sawmill. The family moved to Greenville, Florida, when Ray was an infant.

"Talk about poor," Charles once said. "We were on the bottom of the ladder."

Charles' younger brother, George, drowned when Ray was 5, an event Charles witnessed. George had fallen into a tub; Ray tried to pull him out, "but he was too heavy," he told an interviewer.

Not long after, Charles began losing his sight. By the time he was 7, he was totally blind. But his mother, Charles said, was resolute.

"When the doctors told her that I was gradually losing my sight, and that I wasn't going to get any better, she started helping me deal with it by showing me how to get around, how to find things," he said in the autobiography. "That made it a little bit easier to deal with."

He'd been playing piano since he was 3. In 1937, he entered the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind as a charity student, studied classical piano and clarinet, and learned to read and write music in Braille. Both his parents died by the time Charles turned 15.

At that age, he left school and joined dance bands in Florida, then moved to Seattle, where a talent contest appearance led to work playing at the Elks Club. He formed the McSon Trio with two other musicians -- a group modeled on the Nat King Cole jazz group -- and soon they moved to Los Angeles, where they recorded their first single, "Confession Blues," which Charles wrote.

During the early 1950s, the trio released several singles including "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand," which hit the U.S. R&B chart.

In 1952, Atlantic Records signed him to a contract and he began recording and touring regularly.

His first commercial success came in 1953, when he played piano on Guitar Slim's "The Things That I Used to Do," which sold more than a million copies.

Musical innovator

But it was "I Got a Woman" which made his name.

 

 
story.charles.2000.jpg
Ray Charles in concert in 2000.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The song, based on an old gospel song, was "the fusion of all the elements that till then had simply failed to coalesce," wrote music historian Peter Guralnick. "It was the uninhibited, altogether abandoned sound of the church; it was the keening, ecstatic voicings by which the world has come to know Ray Charles best."

Charles followed up "I Got a Woman," which hit No. 2 on the R&B charts, with hits including "Drown in My Own Tears," "This Little Girl of Mine" (covered by the Everly Brothers), "Lonely Avenue" and "The Night Time Is the Right Time." His rollicking piano and distinctive voice were often backed by a call-and-response group of female background singers, the Raelettes.

In 1959, Charles broke through to the white audience with a top 10 hit, "What'd I Say," which ran more than six minutes in its unedited version. The smash led to his appearance at New York's Carnegie Hall, as well as a huge contract from ABC-Paramount Records.

Charles didn't sit still -- literally and metaphorically. His first album for ABC-Paramount, "The Genius Hits the Road" (1960), was recorded with an extensive string section, still rare in R&B music at the time (the Drifters' "Here Comes My Baby," from 1959, perhaps being the first example). The album featured "Georgia on My Mind," which hit No. 1 and won two Grammys.

The next year he hit No. 1 again with "Hit the Road Jack."

In 1962, Charles decided to release an album of country music, "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," which broke new ground by combining soul and country music and was seen as a risk by many observers at the time. But Charles fooled them all; the album went to No. 1, as did one of its singles, Charles' rendition of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You." He soon followed the album up with "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2."

His hits continued through the mid-'60s and included "Busted," "Crying Time" and "Let's Go Get Stoned," the latter one of the Ashford and Simpson songwriting team's first hits.

Living for the stage

Charles' influence was wide-ranging. When Motown was promoting a new (and also blind) artist, Stevie Wonder, in 1963, they called him "the 12-year-old genius" and played up the Charles similarities. Artists ranging from Joe Cocker to the Beatles to Loretta Lynn credited his impact.

start quoteMusic was one of my parts ... like my blood. It was a necessity for me, like food or water.end quote
-- Ray Charles

Charles also worked extensively with an old Seattle friend, Quincy Jones, whose tastes were equally varied.

Charles had his struggles. In 1964 he was arrested on drug charges and checked into a rehab center in California. He admitted he had struggled with a heroin addiction for 20 years.

He later became reluctant to talk about the drug use, notes The Associated Press, fearing it would taint how people thought of his work.

"I've known times where I've felt terrible, but once I get to the stage and the band starts with the music, I don't know why but it's like you have pain and take an aspirin, and you don't feel it no more," he once said.

Charles remained a popular entertainer long after he stopped hitting the charts. His appearance in 1980's "The Blues Brothers" gave that movie some of its best moments; in the '80s, he was a fixture in Pepsi ads, making a catchphrase of "You've got the right one baby, uh-huh."

"The way I see it, we're actors, but musical ones," he once told The Associated Press. "We're doing it with notes, and lyrics with notes, telling a story. I can take an audience and get 'em into a frenzy so they'll almost riot, and yet I can sit there so you can almost hear a pin drop."

Among his other passions was chess, which he took up while recovering from his heroin addiction.

He knew his value, but played down his impact.

"Music's been around a long time, and there's going to be music long after Ray Charles is dead," he told the Washington Post in 1983. "I just want to make my mark, leave something musically good behind. If it's a big record, that's the frosting on the cake, but music's the main meal."

Charles was divorced. He had 12 children. A memorial service is to be held next week at the AME Church in central Los Angeles.


 

R&B music legend Ray Charles dies
 
Ray Charles
Charles performed 10,000 concerts during a 58-year career

 

 

 

 

 

Legendary US R&B musician Ray Charles has died aged 73 in Los Angeles.

Charles, considered a pioneer of soul music, died of acute liver disease, which was diagnosed after he had hip replacement surgery in December.

Soul diva Aretha Franklin described him as "a fabulous man" who introduced the world to "secular soul singing".

Michael Jackson said he was "a true legend - an American treasure", while Stevie Wonder praised "the genius of his talent of his music".

Charles, who went blind aged six, kept a largely low profile during a recent bout of ill health - but still managed to collaborate with other musicians.

His best-known songs included Georgia on My Mind, Hit the Road Jack and I Can't Stop Loving You.

I lost one of my friends and I will miss him a lot
 
Willie Nelson

 
 

The 12-time Grammy winner played his 10,000th concert on 23 May 2003 in Los Angeles.

More recently, he had worked on a CD of duets with performers such as Sir Elton John, Norah Jones and Johnny Mathis.

Family members and his manager were present when he died.

"Everybody knows him as the legend, the genius. I just knew him as my father, his loving way, his giving way," said his son, Reverend Robert Robinson.

Tributes have been left on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

"He was very straight forward. You knew where you stood. And he always gave great advice, just on life. He would talk to me just about life and what it was to be a man, a true man in this day and time, and that's what I appreciate."

Manager Joe Adams said Charles had planned to return to performing

"He was not recording. He was still listening to songs. He was still looking for material because he had every intention of coming back," said Mr Adams.

Born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany in the south-eastern state of Georgia on 23 September 1930, Charles went on to become one of America's most enduring musicians.

'The Genius'

After the disease glaucoma left him blind as a child, Charles was sent to a school for the deaf and blind in Florida, where he developed a lifelong talent and passion for music.

The young pianist later made his way to the north-western city of Seattle where he first performed as a solo act, modelling himself on the late musical legend Nat "King" Cole.

He was a master of many styles, dabbling in country, jazz, big band and blues.

Battling childhood poverty and adult drug addiction, his intense renditions of classic songs earned him the nickname The Genius.

People remember the big hits and the visual image of him, but they forget what an innovator he was in the 1950s as a jazz musician
 
Marty Stuart

His last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood on 30 April in Los Angeles.

 

The city has designated the singer's studios, built 40 years ago in the centre of the town, an historic landmark.

Charles died in his Beverly Hills home of complications of liver disease, according to his publicist, Jerry Digney.

'Great advice'

"It's devastating," Mr Digney told the AFP news agency. "He's been ailing for while now and it started out with a hip situation and went from there to other things, primarily the liver."

Tributes have also been pouring in from those who knew the man and his music.

"People remember the big hits and the visual image of him, but they forget what an innovator he was in the 1950s as a jazz musician," said country music singer Marty Stuart.

Fellow country music legend, Willie Nelson, said, "I lost one of my friends and I will miss him a lot."

And Hollywood's ceremonial mayor Johnny Grant, who officiates at Walk of Fame ceremonies, said: "The world has lost a true musical genius and I would have to say from what's happening down here on the Walk of Fame, one of the most popular musical person in the world.

"I have never seen news travel so fast and so many people get down to the Walk of Fame as they have today for Ray Charles."