Grammy-Winner Ray Charles Dies at 73
By ANTHONY BREZNICAN, AP Entertainment Writer
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Ray Charles (news), a transcendent talent who erased musical boundaries between the sacred and the secular with hits such as "What'd I Say," "Georgia on My Mind" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," died Thursday. He was 73.
Charles died of acute liver disease at his Beverly Hills home at 11:35 a.m., surrounded by family and friends, said spokesman Jerry Digney.
Blind by age 7 and an orphan at 15, the gifted pianist and saxophonist spent his life shattering any notion of musical categories and defying easy definition. One of the first artists to record the "blasphemous idea of taking gospel songs and putting the devil's words to them," as legendary producer Jerry Wexler once said, Charles' music spanned gospel, R&B, soul, rock 'n' roll, country, jazz, big band and blues.
He put his stamp on it all with a deep, warm voice roughened by heartbreak from a hardscrabble childhood in the segregated South. Smiling and swaying behind the piano, grunts and moans peppering his songs, Charles' appeal spanned generations.
Aretha Franklin (news) called Charles "the voice of a lifetime."
"He was a fabulous man, full of humor and wit," she said in a statement. "A giant of an artist, and of course, he introduced the world to secular soul singing."
Billy Joel (news), a fellow piano man, said many artists tried to emulate Charles, "among them myself, Rod Stewart (news), Joe Cocker (news), Steve Winwood (news) and countless others. Ray Charles defined rhythm and blues, soul, and authentic rock 'n' roll."
"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 (news). "He made inroads for all of us when he did 'I Can't Stop Loving You.' It took country music to places it hadn't been before."
His health deteriorated rapidly over the past year, after he had hip replacement surgery and was diagnosed with a failing liver. But he kept on working.
"There were a couple of times where he would say, 'I'm not feeling well today but I'll take a stab at it, and I can come back to it later.' And he never had to come back to it later," John Burk, who produced Charles' last album, the upcoming "Genius Loves Company," told The Associated Press.
Charles' last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood (news) on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated the singer's studios, built 40 years ago, as a historic landmark.
"I lost one of my best friends and I will miss him a lot," Willie Nelson (news) said in a statement. "Last month or so, we got together and recorded 'It Was a Very Good Year,' by Frank Sinatra (news). It was great hanging out with him for a day."
Charles won nine of his 12 Grammys (news - web sites) 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," which he sang for the late President Reagan at his 1985 inaugural ball.
"I was born with music inside me. That's the only explanation I know of," Charles said in his 1978 autobiography, "Brother Ray."
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, teaming with such disparate musicians as Chaka Khan (news) and Eric Clapton (news). Pepsi tapped him for TV spots around a powerfully simple "uh huh" theme, and he appeared in movies such as "The Blues Brothers."
"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."
Charles was no angel. His womanizing was legendary, and he 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 Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. (He later dropped his last name for the stage, in deference to boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.)
The singer's father, Bailey, was a mechanic and a handyman, and his mother, Aretha, stacked boards in a sawmill. "Talk about poor," Charles once said. "We were on the bottom of the ladder."
Charles saw his brother drown in his mother's laundry tub 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 began dabbling in music at age 3. After 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.
His early influences were myriad: Chopin and Sibelius, 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 patterned himself for a time after Nat "King" Cole and formed a group that backed rhythm and blues singer Ruth Brown (news). It was in Seattle's red light district were he met a young Quincy Jones (news), 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, pioneering what was later called soul. Soon, he was being called "The Genius" and 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, which was banned by some radio stations.
Producer Wexler, who recorded "What'd I Say," said he has worked with only three geniuses in the music business: Franklin, Bob Dylan (news) 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."
His 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."
Charles, who was divorced twice and single since 1952, was survived by 12 children, 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A memorial service was planned for next week at Los Angeles' First AME Church, with burial afterward at Inglewood Cemetery.
Associated Press writer Dave Zelio contributed to this report.
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06-11-2004, 12:17 AM #1
Grammy-Winner Ray Charles Dies at 73
06-11-2004, 01:46 AM #2
- Join Date
- May 2002
- Now in Victoria, BC. I'm from beautiful Jasper Alberta in the heart of the Can. Rockies - will always be an Albertan at heart!
Sad loss of a legend
Rest in peace, Ray Charles.September 11th - Never Forget
I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.
IACOJ CRUSTY CONVENTION CHAIR
RAY WAS HERE FIRST
06-11-2004, 09:22 AM #3
One of the best that ever lived.
06-11-2004, 09:50 AM #4
06-11-2004, 11:02 AM #5
Thursday morning a local radio station, in an attempt to honor the passing of former President Reagan, put together a media montage of Reagan's quotes to , Charles' "America the Beautiful". The Dj who put it together found out hours later that Charles had passed. They played the song during the rush hour home. The combonation of the passing of Charles, a true musical icon, the passing of Reagan, the first president I was "aware" of, and the patriotic nature of the song , was enough to bring a tear to my eyes.
They will live on , long after their passing...
06-11-2004, 11:59 AM #6
Who's going to be the third celebrity?IACOJ Agitator
Fightin' Da Man Since '78!
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