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"His sound was stunning—it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing—all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing."
——Van Morrison on Ray Charles
RAY CHARLES HITS THE ROAD, JACK
Legendary, Grammy-Winning Soul Star Who Paved the Way In Gospel, Blues, Rock and Country, Dies at 73
We’ll always have "Georgia" on our mind.

Ray Charles, the Grammy-winning crooner who practically coined American soul music with a blend of gospel and blues in hits like "What'd I Say" and "I Got A Woman" and heartfelt ballads like "Georgia on My Mind,'' died today at 73.

Charles died at 11:35 a.m. of liver complications, surrounded by family and friends, said spokesman Jerry Digney.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member appeared very frail at his last public appearance alongside Clint Eastwood on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated his studios an historic landmark.

Blind by seven and an orphan at 15, Charles spent his life blasting through musical boundaries. A gifted pianist and saxophonist, he played country, jazz, big band and blues, accompanied by a distinctive gravelly voice that expressed the pain from his tough upbringing in the segregated South. Singers like Steve Winwood and Joe Cocker were influenced by his throaty, soulful style.

"His sound was stunning—it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing—all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing,'' singer Van Morrison, whose own growl owed a debt to Charles, told Rolling Stone magazine recently.

Charles won nine of his 12 Grammy Awards between 1960 and 1966, including the best R&B recording three consecutive years ("Hit the Road Jack,'' "I Can't Stop Loving You'' and "Busted'').

Born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, GA, on Sept. 23, 1930, his father, Bailey Robinson, was a mechanic and a handyman, and his mother, Aretha, stacked boards in a sawmill. His family moved to Gainesville, Fla., when Charles was an infant, and he studied composition and learned to play several instruments at the state-run St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind in Florida, where he worked as a musician before moving to Seattle in 1947. He had his first Top 10 R&B hit in 1951 with "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand."

In the early ‘50s, he toured with bluesman Lowell Fulsom, went to New Orleans to work with Guitar Slim and formed a band to back Ruth Brown.

It was at Atlantic Records with producer Jerry Wexler that Charles blossomed as a talent, though, with R&B hits like "I Got a Woman," "This Little Girl of Mine," "Drown in My Own Tears," "Hallelujah I Love Her So," "Lonely Avenue" and "The Right Time."

Wexler once said: "He had the blasphemous idea of taking gospel songs and putting the devil's words to them," calling Charles one of the three real geniuses he worked with in his life, along with Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.

He crossed over to white pop audiences with the Wexler-produced gospel-rocker "What’d I Say," one of his last hits for Atlantic before moving over to ABC in the late '50s. His Top 40 hits during this period included "Unchain My Heart" and "Hit the Road, Jack."

In 1962, Charles surprised everyone by moving into country & western music, topping the pop charts with the plaintive smash, "I Can’t Stop Loving You."

Charles remained popular throughout the '60s, with hits like "Take These Chains From My Heart" and "Crying Time," before his career was slowed by a heroin bust in 1965, though he returned a year later with one of his best-known tunes, the aptly named "Let’s Go Get Stoned."

Charles was part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inaugural group of inductees in 1986 along with Chuck Berry, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Little Richard.

His career was revived in the ‘80s and ‘90s with his appearance in The Blues Brothers movie and a series of Diet Pepsi commercials.

Taylor Hackford’s biopic The Ray Charles Story: Unchain My Heart, now called simply Ray, starring comic Jamie Foxx as Charles, is currently scheduled for theatrical release Oct. 29.

Charles, who was divorced twice and single since 1952, was survived by 12 children, 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A memorial service was planned for next week at Los Angeles' First AME Church, with burial afterward at Inglewood Cemetery.

Said NARAS President Neil Portnow:  "The world is a quieter place today as we mourn the passing of Ray Charles.  A member of the Recording Academy for more than 45 years, Mr. Charles was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and this past February, we bestowed upon him the prestigious President's Merit Award.  With a mix of blues, gospel, jazz and soul, Mr. Charles was the preeminent American musician...with a heart as grand as his talents.  The Academy has lost a dear friend and the world has lost a musical legend." 

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