Ray Charles, The Genius, Dead At 73

Pioneering African-American Icon Ray Charles passed

away today at the age of 73 due to complications from liver disease.

The 12 time Grammy Award winner passed away today

at his home in Beverly Hills, California. Charles was diagnosed with liver disease

last year after receiving hip-replacement surgery. On

April 30, Charles made his last public appearance when his Los Angeles recording

studio was designated a historic landmark.

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson in 1930

in Albany, Georgia. He lost his sight around the age of seven years due to congenital

juvenile glaucoma.

After several years attending a Florida state

school for the deaf and blind, Charles headed to Seattle, Washington in 1948,

where he dropped Robinson as a surname to avoid confusion with boxing great

"Sugar" Ray Robinson and formed the McSon Trio.

The group hit big in 1949 with "Confession

Blues," on the Downbeat/Swingtime label, but due to a label error, the

group’s name was listed on various records as the Maxine Trio or the Maxim Trio.

By 1952, Atlantic Records, founded in 1947 by

Ahmet Ertegun, was riding high on the strength of hits provided by Stick McGhee,

Professor Longhair, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, the Clovers and the first set

of Drifters.

Atlantic bought Charles’ contract from the Swingtime

label for $2500 and soon hit big with "It Should Have Been Me" and

"I Got a Woman," which showcased the beginnings of his future trademark

sound.

"Music was one of my parts… Like my blood,"

Charles said. "It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene.

It was a necessity for me – like food or water."

That love took him to the Pop charts when he

sought greener pastures and left Atlantic for ABC-Paramount Records in late

1959. ABC offered him a producer’s royalty and the ultimate ownership of his

master tapes, a deal which Atlantic refused to match.

Despite an addiction to heroin that started in the 1940’s and almost consumed

him, Charles cranked out three number 1 pop hits between 1960 and 1962. "Georgia

on My Mind" (’60), "Hit the Road Jack" (’61) and "I Can’t

Stop Loving You" (’62) were all smash singles.

Critics aside, Charles produced the Modern

Sounds in Country and Western which yielded the smash singles "I Can’t

Stop Loving You" and the haunting "You Don’t Know Me."

Charles insisted Country & Western music

was just as much a part of his musical heritage as Blues and Gospel. To prove

his diversity, he released instrumental jazz albums like The Great Ray Charles

and Genius + Soul = Jazz as well as traditional American standards.

In 1973, Charles left ABC with his master recordings

and started a new label, Crossover. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s Charles jumped

from major label to major label until he had a major Country hit with "Born

To Love Me" in 1982.

Charles had his first major pop hit in over twenty

years with 1989’s "I’ll Be Good to You," featuring Chaka Khan.

The impact he had on several genres of music

is undeniable. Charles is a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Rock

and Roll Hall of Fame and was awarded the National Medal of Arts, as well as

a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame

Charles had recently completed Genius Loves

Company, an album of duets featuring Willie Nelson, BB King, Norah Jones,

Johnny Mathis, Bonnie Raitt and Gladys Knight.

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