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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK
Obituary: Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles: Soulful star
Ray Charles stole catchy gospel rhythms joined them to the secular sentiments of blues, the devil's music, and created a recipe for the top ten.

From blues to jazz, through rock 'n' roll and gospel, Ray Charles was a master of many styles. His intense renditions of classic songs earned him the nickname The Genius. Charles worked hard and played hard, was a noted ladies' man and struggled with drug addiction.

He was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia, in 1930 and shortened his name to avoid being confused with the boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson.

He was already learning to play the piano at the age of six, when he was struck by blindness.

Ray Charles was sent to a school for the blind in Florida, joined local bands as a teenager, and formed his own group in the early 1950s, singing and playing the piano and alto-saxophone.

Ray Charles with Quincy Jones
Ray Charles with Quincy Jones
At that time his hero was Nat King Cole, who made an early impression on his style.

Charles had taught himself to compose and arrange music in braille, and his early efforts, heavily influenced by gospel music, were rhythm and blues songs.

His first success was his own composition Hallelujah! I Love Her So, recorded in 1956.

Three years later came his biggest hit, the atmospheric Hoagy Carmichael classic, Georgia on My Mind.

Heroin addiction

This was followed by Hit the Road, Jack and the country and western number I Can't Stop Loving You.

By then, Ray Charles was in big demand for concert work, familiar for both his dark glasses and his habit of rocking in rhythm on the piano stool.

But Ray Charles had a long-standing problem with drugs, although he claimed to have had it under control.

Ray Charles at the piano
Charles' distinctive style transformed popular music
After a third conviction for possessing heroin in 1966, he announced that he had cured himself of long-term addiction.

His record sales ran into millions, and he was in constant demand for overseas tours.

After his first appearance in Britain in 1963, Ray Charles became a regular visitor to the UK, and into the new millennium, audiences around the world still flocked to his live performances.

Ray Charles' distinctive, emotionally-charged, style made him one of the most influential musicians of his time.

Stars from The Beatles to Van Morrison cited as an inspiration the remarkable man who, almost single-handedly, created a whole new musical form, gospel blues.

Ray Charles on the BBC's Hardtalk programme

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