This has been a really harsh couple of months. First Elvin then Steve and now Ray. Well I hope they're all makin' beautiful music wherever they're at. NYTimes.com June 10, 2004 Ray Charles, Who Reshaped American Music, Dies at 73 By JON PARELES Ray Charles, one of America's greatest singers and a musician who brought the essence of soul to country, jazz, rock, standards and every other style of music he touched, died today. He was 73. A spokesman for Mr. Charles, Jerry Digney, said Mr. Charles told Reuters that Mr. Charles had died at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., of complications from liver disease. Mr. Charles reshaped American music for half a century as a singer, pianist, songwriter, bandleader and producer. He was a remarkable pianist, at home with splashy barrelhouse playing and precisely understated swing. But his playing was inevitably overshadowed by his voice, a forthright baritone steeped in the blues, strong and impure and gloriously unpredictable. Mr. Charles could belt like a blues shouter and croon like a pop singer, and he used the flaws and breaks in his voice to illuminate emotional paradoxes. Even in his early years, he sounded like a voice of experience, someone who had seen all the hopes and follies of humanity. Leaping into falsetto, stretching a word and then breaking it off with a laugh or a sob, slipping into an intimate whisper and then letting loose a whoop, Mr. Charles could sound suave or raw, brash or hesitant, joyful or desolate, insouciant or tearful, earthy or devout. He projected the primal exuberance of a field holler and the sophistication of a be-bopper; he could conjure exaltation, sorrow and determination within a single phrase. In the 1950's, Mr. Charles became an architect of soul music by bringing the fervor and dynamics of gospel to secular subjects. But he soon broke through any categories. By singing any song he prized from "Hallelujah I Love Her So" to "I Can't Stop Lovin' You" to "Georgia on My Mind" to "America the Beautiful" Mr. Charles claimed all of American music as his birthright. He made more than 60 albums, and his influence echoes through generations of rock and soul singers. Ray Charles Robinson was born on Sept. 23, 1930, in the small town of Albany, Ga., and grew up in Greenville, Fla. When he was 5 years old, he began losing his sight from an unknown ailment that may have been glaucoma. He became completely blind at the age of 6. But he began to learn piano, at first from a local boogie-woogie pianist, Wylie Pitman; he also soaked up gospel music at the Shiloh Baptist Church and rural blues from musicians who included Tampa Red. He was sent to the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind from 1937 to 1945. There, he learned to repair radios and automobiles, and he started formal piano lessons. He learned to write music in Braille and played Chopin and Art Tatum; he also learned to play clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet and organ. On the radio, he listened to swing bands, country-and-western singers and gospel quartets. "My ears were sponges, soaked it all up," he told David Ritz, who collaborated on his 1978 autobiography, "Brother Ray." He left school at 15, after the death of his mother, and went to Jacksonville to earn a living as a musician. He played where he could as a sideman or a solo act, taking jobs all over the state and calling himself Ray Charles to distinguish himself from the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. He modeled himself on two urbane pianists and singers, Charles Brown and Nat (King) Cole, carefully copying their hits and imitating their inflections. After three years, he decided to put Florida far behind him and moved to Seattle. There, he formed the McSon Trio, named after its guitarist, Gosady McGee, and the "son" from Robinson. He also started an addiction to heroin that lasted for 17 years. Mr. Charles made his first single, "Confession Blues," in Seattle in 1949, credited to the Maxin (a different spelling of McSon) Trio. His second single, "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" by the Ray Charles Trio, was recorded in Los Angeles in 1950 with musicians who had played with Nat Cole. The singles were hits on the "race records" (later rhythm-and-blues) charts, and Mr. Charles moved to Los Angeles. He joined the band led by the blues guitarist Lowell Fulson, and became its musical director. After two years of touring the United States, he left to resume his own career. In 1953, he signed with Atlantic Records; he also moved to New Orleans to work with Guitar Slim as pianist and arranger. Guitar Slim's "Things That I Used to Do," featuring Mr. Charles on piano, became a million-selling single in 1954, and it convinced Mr. Charles to leave his imitative style behind and free his own voice. He moved to Dallas and formed a band featuring the Texas saxophonist David (Fathead) Newman. And after working with studio bands on his first Atlantic singles, he convinced the label to let him record with his touring band, playing arrangements that had been road-tested on the rhythm-and-blues circuit. "I've Got a Woman," recorded in a radio-station studio in Atlanta with his seven-piece band, became Mr. Charles's first national hit in 1955, starting a string of bluesy, gospel-charged hits, among them "A Fool for You," "Drown in My Own Tears" and "Hallelujah I Love Her So." In the mid-1950's, he expanded his band to include the Raelettes, female backup singers who provided responses like a gospel choir, and they became a permanent part of his music. It was the beginning of the rock and roll era, but Mr. Charles didn't gear his songs to teen-agers; they had the adult concerns of the blues. Yet his songs began showing up on the pop charts as well as the rhythm-and-blues charts. At the same time, Mr. Charles made clear his allegiance to jazz, recording an album with Milt Jackson of the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1958 and appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1959, a late-night jam session turned into "What'd I Say." It was a blues with an electric-piano riff, a quasi-Latin beat and cheerful come-ons that gave way to wordless, call-and-response moans. Although some radio stations banned it, it became a Top 10 pop hit and sold a million copies. But his next album, "The Genius of Ray Charles," took a different tack: half of it was recorded with a lush string orchestra, half with a big band. He also recorded his first country song, a version of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On." Mr. Charles left Atlantic for ABC-Paramount Records in 1959 when it offered him higher royalties and ownership of his master recordings. He began to reach a larger pop public with songs that included two No. 1 hits, his version of "Georgia on My Mind" in 1960 (which brought him his first of a dozen Grammy awards) and "Hit the Road Jack" in 1961. With increasing royalties and touring fees, Mr. Charles expanded his group to become a big band. By the early 1960's, Mr. Charles had virtually given up writing his own material to follow his eclectic impulses as an interpreter. He made an instrumental jazz album, "Genius + Soul = Jazz," playing Hammond organ with a big band featuring Count Basie sidemen. On the duet album he made in 1961 with the jazz singer Betty Carter, two highly idiosyncratic voices sounded utterly compatible. And in 1962, he released the album "Modern Sounds in Country and Western," remaking country songs as big-band ballads. His version of "I Can't Stop Lovin' You" reached No. 1 and sold a million copies. After recording "Modern Sounds in Country and Western, Vol. 2," Mr. Charles settled into an office building and studio in Los Angeles that remained his headquarters. He returned to rhythm-and-blues for his other major 1960's hits: "Busted" in 1963 and "Let's Go Get Stoned" in 1966. But he was also recording standards, country songs and show tunes. In 1965, Mr. Charles was arrested for possession of heroin. He spent time in a California sanitarium to break his addiction and stopped performing for a year, the only break during his long career. When he emerged, he resumed his old schedule: touring for up to 10 months with the big band and releasing an album or two every year. He started his own label, Tangerine, which released albums through ABC and on its own. In the mid-1970's, he started another label, Crossover, which released albums through Atlantic Records. His presence on the pop charts had dwindled, but he was still widely respected. In 1971, he joined Aretha Franklin for the concert she recorded as "Live at Fillmore West." His version of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" won a Grammy award in 1975. He wrote an autobiography, "Brother Ray," that became a best-seller in 1978. In 1979, his version of "Georgia on My Mind" was named as Georgia's official state song, and in 1980, he was featured in the movie "The Blues Brothers." During the 1980's, Mr. Charles returned to the charts, this time in the country category. The boundary-crossing Southern music he had envisioned with "Modern Sounds in Country and Western" had been not just accepted, but treated as natural. Mr. Charles signed to CBS Records's Nashville division and made "Friendship," an album of duets with 10 country stars, including songs with George Jones and Willie Nelson that reached the country Top 10 in 1983. He sang "America the Beautiful" at the Republican Convention in 1984. In 1986, Mr. Charles was one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He received a Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement in 1987, and in 1989 he appeared on Quincy Jones's album "Back on the Block," winning another Grammy for a vocal duet with Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You." In 1990, he turned up in television ads for Diet Pepsi, singing, "You got the right one, baby, uh-huh!" Mr. Charles's private life was complicated; he was married twice, and had nine children with seven women. But he had become an American pop icon. And year in and year out, Mr. Charles continued to move audiences with his concerts. He would take a set of familiar songs and find within them moments of tenderness and bitterness, humor and resignation. In songs he had written and songs that he had indelibly claimed, Mr. Charles summed up American music from big-band swing to country, Tin Pan Alley to gospel. With his profound knowledge of musical styles and matters of the heart, Mr. Charles composed, arranged and improvised his way toward an American culture that embraced soul and acknowledged no barriers.