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Ray Charles

Ray Charles Obituary

News Obituary Article

DEATH OF A SOUL ICON: RAY CHARLES: SEPT. 23, 1930 - JUNE 10, 2004: 'Fads come and go, but the song, man, the song is forever.' --- RAY CHARLES, June 2002


Sept. 23, 1930: Ray Charles Robinson born in Albany.

1936-37: Contracts glaucoma and becomes blind.

April 1949: First chart appearance with "Confessin' Blues."

Nov. 18, 1954: Records "I've Got a Woman" in Atlanta. It charts in 1955 and is frequently considered the first song to be called "soul."

November 1960: Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on My Mind" hits No. 1 on pop charts. Georgia Legislature names it the official state song in 1979.

Oct. 9, 1961: "Hit the Road Jack" hits No. 1.

June 1962: Releases "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," includes hits "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "You Don't Know Me."

December 1964: Arrested for possession of heroin and marijuana, he is later convicted and given a five-year suspended sentence. In 1965 he kicks his heroin addiction in rehab.

1967: Wins two Grammy Awards for "Crying Time."

Jan. 23, 1986: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the first group of inductees.

December 1986: Receives Kennedy Center Honors.

March 2, 1988: Receives Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

March 1, 1994: Receives 12th Grammy Award.


"The Birth of Soul." (Atlantic, 1991) Boastful, but absolutely true. On his greatest hits collection, you can hear how gospel fervor coupled with worldly urges of the flesh and troubles of the heart led to the rhythm and blues of now.

"Things That I Used to Do," Guitar Slim. (Specialty, 1954) At a glance this New Orleans blues singer's album might be a curious choice for a Ray Charles discography, but it was on the title track that the until-then imitative Charles found his feet --- literally --- at the pedals of the piano and became more confident in his own style. He also arranged the single. (Even if you can find the 1954 vinyl, qualitywise it's the 2003 P-Vine Japan reissue you want.)

"Hallelujah I Love Her So." (Atlantic, originally titled "Ray Charles" in 1955) A year after "Things" in an Atlanta studio, the Albany native and a seven-piece band recorded "I've Got a Woman," his first major hit. "Hallelujah" includes that track, which combined with "Drown in My Own Tears" and "A Fool for You," introduced and legitimized his bluesy-gospel force. (It's the WEA International 2003 remastering that's the keeper.)

"The Genius of Ray Charles." (Atlantic, 1959) "What'd I Say" illustrates his improvisational abilities, but it was on "Genius," with an orchestra on one half and a big band on the other, that he exhibited his grasp of the elements of blues, jazz, soul, and --- on a cover of Hank Snow's "Movin' On" --- country. (Three years later he singularly addressed the music on the widely touted "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.")

"Aretha Live at Fillmore West," Aretha Franklin (Atlantic, 1971) The Queen of Soul we know about and, unanimously, all hail. But a king? Well, judge for yourself how Charles compares and competes with her when she pulls him out of the audience for "Spirit in the Dark."

"Back on the Block," Quincy Jones with various artists. (Qwest, 1989) Arguably the last time he appeared on an original recording of heft was here, under the direction of his lifelong friend Jones. On the cover of the Brothers Johnson's "I'll Be Good to You," even in his late 50s, he went blow for blow with heavyweight wailer Chaka Khan.

--- Sonia Murray

© 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on June 11, 2004
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