BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Ray Charles, the Grammy-winning crooner who blended gospel and blues
in such crowd-pleasers as "What'd I Say" and heartfelt ballads like "Georgia on My Mind," died Thursday, a spokesman said. He was 73.
Charles died at his Beverly Hills home surrounded by family and friends, said spokesman Jerry Digney.
Charles last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated the singer's studios, built 40 years ago in central Los Angeles, as a historic landmark.
Blind by age 7 and an orphan at 15, Charles spent his life shattering any notion of musical boundaries and defying easy definition. A gifted pianist and saxophonist, he dabbled in country, jazz, big band and blues, and put his stamp on it all with a deep, warm voice roughened by heartbreak from a hardscrabble childhood in the segregated South.
"His sound was stunning – it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing — it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing," singer Van Morrison told Rolling Stone magazine in April.
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").
His versions of other songs are also well known, including "Makin' Whoopee" and a stirring "America the Beautiful." Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote "Georgia on My Mind" in 1931 but it didn't become Georgia's official state song until 1979, long after Charles turned it into an American standard.