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"He was really fragile by the end, but his spirit and feistiness can be heard throughout the album. The body may have been fading, but he never did."
——Phil Ramone, Album Producer
REMEMBERING RAY'S GENIUS
Legendary Musician's Final Album Features Duets with Norah Jones, Elton John, Willie Nelson, More
The late Ray Charles’ final album, Genius Loves Company, the first for Concord Records in its partnership with Starbucks Entertainment’s Hear Music, didn’t start out that way. But, with his death June 10, the disc now serves as a fitting epitaph to the musical legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member.

The record, hitting stores next Tuesday (8/31), is Charles’ first-ever album of duets. Produced by multiple Grammy winner Phil Ramone and Concord EVP John Burk, it includes Charles and an all-star cast of collaborators, recorded in his historic L.A. studio and completed just two months before his passing.

His partners include a who’s-who of pop, R&B, country, blues and soul artists, befitting a man who shattered genre expectations, including Elton John, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, B.B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Cole, James Taylor, Johnny Mathis, Gladys Knight and Michael McDonald.

"I had been a fan of Ray forever," says Burk, who initiated the project. "He’s had such a far-reaching influence on other singers, I thought a duets album was a natural."

"He crossed all the lines, and that’s what we wanted to show by the selection of artists," adds Ramone, who previously worked with Charles on several occasions, including a duet with Billy Joel. "He was really fragile by the end, but his spirit and feistiness can be heard throughout the album. The body may have been fading, but he never did."

Charles collaborated on his own songs, "Here We Go Again" (Jones), "You Don’t Know Me" (Krall) and "Did I Ever Cross Your Mind" (Raitt), as well as standards like "It Was a Very Good Year" (Nelson), "Fever" (Cole) and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Mathis). He also sang songs associated with his partners, like Elton’s "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" and Morrison’s "Crazy Love."

"He’s more than a musician or a singer," explains Ramone. "He’s an arranger. He thinks about all the other parts. And that interaction was something special. When the fear factor, the love factor and the musical factor all come together, you can’t ask for more."

"It wasn’t intended to be a career capper, but by the end, Ray seemed to select songs that addressed his legacy, like ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ and ‘Heaven Help Us All’," said Burk. "He was making a statement, and this record became very important to him. In the same way he was determined to get through life without depending on anybody, he was equally set on finishing this album and giving his all."

While the label has no singles rights, several tracks, including the Jones and Krall, have been airing on jazz, smooth jazz, American traditional and even some Triple AAA stations. The album will also be sold at more than 4,000  Starbucks locations around the country through their Hear Music label.

"Ray’s greatest gift was his ability to make you feel what he was singing and communicating the human experience, the emotion, of a song," concludes Burk. "When you can capture that, you have a record that means something, that touches people. And I think we accomplished that."

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