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International legend of soul, jazz, rock-and-rollby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins
Ray Charles could do it all. As a singer, pianist, composer and arranger, renowned as a founding father of soul music, Charles was equally an icon in the field of jazz, rock-and-roll and country music as well. The twelve-time Grammy recipient died of liver disease on June 10, 2004, at the age of 73.
Little Ray Charles Robinson began playing the piano at the age of five at his poor family's home in Greenville, Florida. He contracted glaucoma that year and, because the family could not afford to have it treated, he went blind by the age of seven. He became a resident of the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind, where he studied music and learned to write it in Braille. Black gospel music, Louis Jordan and Nat "King" Cole were particular influences on his style.
When he was orphaned at the age of fifteen, Charles realized that his future was left in his hands alone. Confident in his musical abilities, he left the school, formed a band and began touring southern Florida. A few years later, living in Seattle, he dropped his last name to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. In 1955 Charles scored his first R&B hit with "I've Got a Woman", beginning his steady climb to the top of the charts. In 1957 he recorded with Milt Jackson (Soul Brothers, Atlantic), and the following year Charles made a triumphant appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival (Ray Charles at Newport, 1958, Atlantic).
Charles' subsequent recordings and concerts ran the full gamut from straight gospel and jazz (Genius + Soul = Jazz, 1960, Impulse), and gigs with the Basie band) to rock-and-roll and even successful dabblings in country (2 volumes of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Atlantic). He earned the first of his dozen Grammy Awards in 1960 and eventually logged a long string of hit records including "Hit the Road, Jack", "I Can't Stop Loving You", "What'd I Say?", "One Mint Julep", "Busted" and the perennial "Georgia on my Mind", all delivered in his hoary, joyful, instantly identifiable voice.
In April 2004 Charles appeared in Los Angeles with actor/director/jazz fan Clint Eastwood at a ceremony designating Ray Charles Studios as a historic city landmark. He had suffered with liver disease for several months but had kept it a private matter until his death.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.
Ray Charles by Ronnie Jamesby Ronnie James
Copyright © 2004 Ronnie James
Ronnie James is a freelance photographer. Visit his website at http://www.ronniejamesphotography.com/