American music legend Ray Charles, who virtually invented soul and made his mark on rock & roll, blues, country and jazz, died today at his home in Beverly Hills, California; he was seventy-three.
Charles was born September 23rd, 1930 in Albany, Georgia, and lost his sight to glaucoma when he was a child. The pianist, arranger and composer is best known for his hits “What’d I Say,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “Hit the Road Jack,” and he won twelve Grammy awards and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Charles’ disciple Van Morrison paid tribute to him our “Immortals” issue back in April. Below are his fitting words:
Ray Charles is proof that the best music crosses all boundaries, reaches all denominations. He can do any type of music, and at the same time he’s always true to himself. It’s all about his soul.
His music first hit me when I heard a live version of “What’d I Say” on American Forces Network in Germany, which I used to listen to late at night. Then I started buying his singles. 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.
As a singer, Ray Charles doesn’t phrase like anyone else. He doesn’t put the time where you think it’s gonna be, but it’s always perfect, always right. He knows how to play with time, like any great jazzman. But there was more to him than that voice — he was also writing these incredible songs. He was a great musician, an amazing record maker, a great producer and a wonderful arranger.
There’s a reason they called Ray Charles “the Genius.” Think of how he reinvented country music in a way that worked for him. He showed there are no limitations, not for someone as good as he is. Whatever Ray Charles does, whatever he touches, he makes it his own. He’s his own genre. It’s all Ray Charles music now.
I always learn something listening to him. It’s music that set a tough standard. For me, two albums that stand out are Ray Charles at Newport and Ray Charles In Person. Then there’s Genius + Soul = Jazz with the Basie orchestra and Quincy Jones. And of course Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. There’s so much to live up to — these days, you almost have to go backwards to go forwards.
Recently I did a duet with him on one of my songs, “Crazy Love.” It felt fantastic. I always loved his singing, but I also connected with him on a soul level. I just felt his emotion. People like Ray Charles — and Sam Cooke, Bobby Bland and Solomon Burke — defined what soul was for me. It wasn’t just the singing — it was what went into the singing. These were guys who put their souls on the line.
This music is way beyond marketing. This music is global, and its appeal is universal. Ray Charles changed music just by being himself — by doing what he did and translating it to millions of people with the wide-ranging effect of his one-of-a-kind soul. That’s his legacy. I think that the music of Ray Charles will probably outlive us all — at least I hope that it will.