Perhaps revealing where my deepest emotions lie, I am much more touched by the passing of Ray Charles than I am by the loss of Ronald Reagan, who was 20 years older than Charles and I had long since written off in my mind as a machine that had long since lost its ghost.
The official press release:
- (Los Angeles, Calif., June 10, 2004)—Music legend Ray Charles, 73, a 13-time Grammy® Award winner, known the world over as “The Genius of Soul,” died at 11:35 AM (PDT) today at the age of 73, announced his publicist, Jerry Digney, of Solters & Digney.
He was surrounded by family, friends and longtime business associates at his home in Beverly Hills.
“Although he was very successful and owned a home in Beverly Hills, his first home was always his treasured studio, recently named a city landmark,” said a saddened Joe Adams, the entertainer’s manager for the past 45 years.
Charles’ last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated the singer’s studios an historic landmark.
Last summer, it was initially reported that Charles—born in Albany, GA, on Sept. 30, 1930, as Ray Charles Robinson—was suffering from “acute hip discomfort.”
As doctors began to treat the entertainer in Los Angeles and perform a successful hip replacement procedure, other ailments were diagnosed, and Charles ultimately succumbed from complications due to liver disease.
Prior to his death, Charles finalized a duets album, “Genius Loves Company,” for the Concord label, his first new album since 2001 and okayed plans for the building of the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Norah Jones, BB King, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis and James Taylor are just a few of the notable artists involved with the project, which is scheduled for release Aug. 31.
“The duets project has been a tremendous experience,” he said, at the outset of recording.
“I am working with some of the best artists in the business, as well as some of my dearest friends.”
I’m very much looking forward to this release – Ray’s best work over the last 15 years or so has been on duets.
- Charles was recently awarded the prestigious “President’s Merit Award” from the Grammy organization by its president, Neil Portnow, just prior to the 2004 Grammy Awards, and was named a City of Los Angeles “Cultural Treasure” by Mayor James Hahn during “African American Heritage Month” in a February ceremony that he attended.
He also received the NAACP Image Awards’ “Hall of Fame Award” on March 6.
An accomplished pianist and songwriter, Charles was considered the creator of the soul music genre, a unique R&B forerunner to rock n’ roll and other musical offspring.
During a career that spanned some 58 years, Charles starred on over 250 albums, many of them top sellers in a variety of musical genres.
Blessed with one of the 20th century’s most advanced musical minds, Charles became an American cultural icon decades ago.
Among his memorable hits are “What’d I Say,” “I Got A Woman,” “Georgia,” “Born To Lose,” “Hit the Road Jack” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” He also gave the Ray Charles touch to such popular fare as the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rugby” and “Yesterday.”
Among the singer’s most moving and enduring musical recordings is his oft-played rendition of “America The Beautiful.”
Charles appeared in movies, such as “The Blues Brothers,” and on television, and starred in commercials for Pepsi and California Raisins, among numerous others.
After going blind from glaucoma at the age of seven, Charles was sent to the St. Augustine, Fla., School for the deaf and blind, where he developed his enormous musical gift.
The young pianist eventually made his way to Seattle, Wash., performing as a solo act, first modeling himself after Nat “King” Cole.
While in Seattle, he met a young Quincy Jones and they became lifelong friends.
In the late 1940s, he began establishing a name for himself in clubs around the northwest, evolving his own music and singing style, which later included the famous back up singers, “The Raelettes.”
While in Seattle, he dropped the “Robinson” from his name to avoid confusion with the legendary boxer.
A recording career began in earnest in 1949 and Charles soon started a musical experiment, which included mixing genres.
The experiments manifested themselves in 1955 with the successful release of “I Got a Woman.” It’s reported that in devising the song, Charles reworded the gospel tune, “Jesus is all the World to Me,” adding deep church inflections to the secular rhythms of the nightclubs. “I Got A Woman” is popularly credited as the first true “soul” record.
The renowned entertainer, who had not missed a tour in 53 consecutive years of concert travels, had cancelled his remaining 2003 tour, beginning last August.
“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.”
While remaining in Los Angeles, Charles continued a light work load at his studios and offices, overseeing production of new releases for his own record label, Crossover Records, mixing a long-planned gospel CD and beginning work on the duets album.
A feature film based on his life story, “Unchain My Heart, The Ray Charles Story,” starring Jamie Foxx as the entertainer, completed principal filming early last summer.
Charles’ last public performance of his career was on July 20, 2003, in Alexandria, VA.
“Ray Charles was a true original, a musical genius and a friend and brother to me,” said Adams, the entertainer’s longtime manager and business partner.
“He pioneered a new style and opened the door for many young performers to follow. Some of his biggest fans were the young music stars of today, who loved and admired his talent and independent spirit.”
In addition to multiple Grammy® Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement, Charles is also one of the original inductees 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.
He has also been inducted into numerous other music Halls of Fame, including those for Jazz and Rhythm and Blues, a testament to his enormous influence.
“You can’t run away from yourself,” Charles once said. “I was raised in the church and was around blues and would hear all these musicians on the jukeboxes and then I would go to revival meetings on Sunday morning. So I would get both sides of music. A lot of people at the time thought it was sacrilegious but all I was doing was singing the way I felt.”
Last May, he headlined the White House Correspondents Dinner in Wash., DC, at which President and Mrs. Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, were in attendance, and he also starred with Vince Gill, George Jones and Glen Campbell in a Nashville television special saluting country music’s top 100 hits.
Charles’ performance of “Behind Closed Doors” on the TV special garnered the evening’s biggest standing ovation.
In 2002, Charles celebrated the 40th anniversary of his first country hit, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which became a number one chart topper and expanded the scope of the entertainer’s career to the industry’s astonishment.
Last year, the press-shy Charles sat for interviews in Los Angeles with film star Clint Eastwood, who conversed with the music pioneer about the blues for a documentary, “Piano Blues,” seen on PBS, and also reunited with his longtime friend and early record industry patron, Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, for a television profile on the record label legend.
Early last summer, he performed his 10,000th career concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.
In May, 2003, he also received his fifth doctorate from Dillard University in New Orleans.
In 2002, Charles and Adams endowed both Morehouse College and Albany State Univ., in Charles’ birthplace of Albany, GA, with substantial contributions, exceeding $1 million each.
Sixteen years ago, Charles established the Ray Charles Robinson Foundation for the hearing impaired.
Since its creation, the foundation, with Charles’ encouragement and generous, on-going funding, has blazed a trail of discovery in auditory physiology and hearing implantation.
Each such implant procedure costs upwards of $40,000, which the Foundation pays to have done.
Of some 145-celebrity charities, the Ray Charles Foundation is rated by non-profit experts as one of the top five most efficient with zero administrative overhead.
Recently, a series of slot machines were designed in Charles’ name for the visually handicapped and the legendary performer was also named a “living legend” by the Library of Congress in 2002.
He also starred in a concert in May, 2002, at the Colosseum in Rome, the first musical performance there in 2,000 years.
Charles once told an interviewer from USA Today, “Music to me is just like breathing. I have to have it. It’s part of me.”
Despite recent health challenges, Charles was planning to again start touring in mid-June and the sudden setback in his recovery was a great shock to all.
Eleven children, 20 grandchildren and five great grandchildren survive Charles, who will be remembered late next week at a memorial service at the FAME Church in central Los Angeles with interment at Inglewood Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif.
Willie checks in:
- WILLIE NELSON REFLECTS ON THE PASSING OF FRIEND AND MUSIC LEGEND RAY CHARLES
“I lost one of my best friends and I will miss him a lot,” Willie Nelson said. “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.”
Willie is the only figure in American music with anything close to Ray’s reach and scope – they are similar in many ways, although entering a common room of material through different doors.
The classic country guys really dug Brother Ray – here’s Travis Tritt:
- TRAVIS TRITT REMARKS ON THE LIFE OF FELLOW MUSICIAN AND FRIEND RAY CHARLES
“I was deeply saddened by the passing of Ray Charles,” Travis Tritt said. “Obviously the influence he had on me and my music from as far back as I can remember was monumental. I always take pride in the fact that I share the same home state of Georgia as Ray.
“I am a huge fan and avid student of his singing style. My life long dream was to have an opportunity to meet and record with Ray. The opportunity came last year when I taped and recorded a CMT Crossroad’s special with him, and I count that as a high point in my life. As an added bonus, I not only had the chance to witness his overwhelming talent first hand while sharing the stage with him, but I also found a new and true friend. He called me back in his dressing room after the special, pulled me in real close and said: ‘I’m going to give you my number and I want you to call’… and he meant it. We kept in touch and he flew in to catch one of my shows.
“I will always cherish the memory of his friendship and his hospitality to me.”
Travis also said about Ray’s tremendous impact on country music, “as soon as I heard “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” when I was a kid, the first thing I wanted to do was go home, rush home, and see if I could sing like him. I remember hearing Ray do those things like ‘Born to Lose’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and I found that while I couldn’t get in his world I could sing that style of music. I could sing with that soul. As far as I’m concerned, he did more to open doors in the 1960s for a whole new audience of country music listeners than anybody since him or before. If they don’t find a place for Ray Charles in the Country Music Hall of Fame they’re crazy.”
Marty Stuart added, “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.”
The BBC has a nice collection of tributes:
- Soul legend Stevie Wonder called Charles an “incredible musician, singer, writer and a great man” whose life should be celebrated.
Michael Jackson said he was sad to hear of the death of his friend, calling him an “American treasure”.
He said: “His music is timeless, his contribution to the music industry unequalled, unparalleled.” Charles died of acute liver disease on Thursday.
Jackson added: “He paved the way for so many of us, and I will forever remember him in my heart.”
And Stevie Wonder also said: “He was just incredible because he was a great musician, he was a genius in the true meaning of the word genius. He was able to bring various genres of music together.”
Former Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones told BBC News Online Charles was a big influence on the band in its formative days.
Jones – who sang 1960s hits such as Pretty Flamingo and Do Wah Diddy Diddy – said: “In common with all the true greats, he committed his whole personality into the performance of the song.
“He wrote some fantastic things, but his brilliance also comes through in his interpretation of pop songs and standards.”
….Neil Sedaka described Charles as “my idol”.
“I bought all of the R&B records and songs,” he said. “I am shaken by it… he was a great spokesperson not only for black America but for all of America.”
Former Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald reminisced about his memories of listening to Charles’ music.
“For me personally, my earliest, some of my fondest memories are before I could even see over the dashboard of my father’s Ford,” McDonald said.
“He and I would crank the radio every time Ray Charles came on – Born to Lose and I Can’t Stop Loving You and all of Ray’s stuff – it seemed that the whole world would fill up with Ray Charles in that old Ford and it was for me such an incredible inspiration.