Advertisement

Ray Charles dies at 73

By
PAT NASON

LOS ANGELES, June 10 (UPI) -- Ray Charles, a 12-time Grammy-winning singer-pianist who pioneered the blending of country and R&B, died Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 73.

Publicist Jerry Digney said Charles died of complications due to liver disease. Digney said Charles, internationally known as "The Genius of Soul," was surrounded by family, friends and longtime business associates when he died at 11:35 a.m.

Advertisement

Charles recently had hip-replacement surgery in Los Angeles, but doctors diagnosed other ailments, and he never returned to good health. In his last public appearance April 30, Charles joined Clint Eastwood for a dedication ceremony as the City of Los Angeles designated his studios a historic landmark.

"Although he was very successful and owned a home in Beverly Hills, his first home was always his treasured studio," said Joe Adams, who had been Charles' manager for the past 45 years.

Charles had completed work in March on "Genius Loves Company," a new album of duets with such artists as Elton John, Norah Jones, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis and James Taylor. It is scheduled for release Aug. 31 on the Concord label, in collaboration with Starbucks' music-distribution arm, Hear Music.

Advertisement

"The duets project has been a tremendous experience," said Charles as he began work on the album. "I am working with some of the best artists in the business, as well as some of my dearest friends."

"I lost one of my best friends and I will miss him a lot," said Nelson. "Ray could kick my ass any day in a chess game. He gloated over that. Last month or so, we got together and recorded 'It Was a Very Good Year,' by Frank Sinatra. It was great hanging out with him for a day."

Charles was an original inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Presidential Medal for the Arts, France's Legion of Honor and the Kennedy Center Honors.

In addition to receiving 12 Grammys for such classic recordings as "Busted," "Crying Time," "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit the Road Jack" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," Charles was honored this year with the prestigious "President's Merit Award" from Recording Academy President Neil Portnow.

"The world is a quieter place today," said Portnow in reaction to the new of Charles' death. "The academy has lost a dear friend and the world has lost a musical legend."

Advertisement

Charles received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and has had seven recordings inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, including the legendary 1962 album "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music." The album, featuring "Busted" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," blurred the line between R&B and country music and raised Charles' profile to that of a superstar who was just as fluent in jazz and swing as he was in soul.

He became one of the few black performers to have a No. 1 country record when he teamed with Nelson on "Seven Spanish Angels" in 1985.

In February 2004 Charles was named a City of Los Angeles "Cultural Treasure" by Mayor James Hahn during "African-American Heritage Month." He received the NAACP Image Awards' "Hall of Fame Award" on March 6.

During a career that spanned nearly six decades, Charles turned out more than 250 albums. His list of classic recordings included "What'd I Say," "I Got A Woman" and "Born To Lose."

One of his most moving and memorable recordings was his soulful rendition of "America the Beautiful."

He appeared in movies, sometimes making light of his blindness. In "The Blues Brothers," he took dead aim with a firearm on a would-be shoplifter in his music store. In "Spy Hard," he drove a public-transit bus.

Advertisement

He drove a car without assistance in a commercial filmed in the desert of Death Valley. Charles also appeared in commercials for Pepsi Cola and California Raisins.

Born Ray Charles Robinson on Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga., Charles lost his sight at seven from glaucoma. He was sent to the St. Augustine, Fla., School for the Deaf and Blind, where he developed his musical gift.

As a young professional, he modeled his performance after Nat "King" Cole. He met another young, up-and-coming musician named Quincy Jones in Seattle, and they struck up a lifelong friendship.

In the late 1940s Charles began establishing a name in clubs around the Pacific Northwest and began a recording career that hit its first high point in 1955 with the release of "I Got a Woman."

Charles -- who had not missed a tour in 53 years -- gave his last concert performance on July 20, 2003, in Alexandria, Va. He canceled the remainder of his 2003 tour dates after doctors insisted that he stay off the road.

"It breaks my heart to withdraw from these shows," he said at the time. "All my life I've been touring and performing. It's what I do. But the doctors insist I stay put and mend for a while, so I'll heed their advice."

Advertisement

A feature film based on Charles' life and words -- "Unchain My Heart, The Ray Charles Story," starring Jamie Foxx -- completed principal filming in 2003.

Charles is survived by 11 children, 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He will be memorialized next week in a service at the FAME Church in central Los Angeles, followed by interment at Inglewood Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif.

--

(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

Latest Headlines