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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 08:20 GMT 09:20 UK
Fans bid farewell to Ray Charles
Mourners view the casket of music legend Ray Charles which lays in repose at the Los Angeles Convention Centre
Ray Charles had an army of fans around the world
The body of musician Ray Charles, who died last week aged 73, has gone on public display to allow thousands of his fans to pay their respects.

Charles lies in repose in an open coffin adjacent to a black grand piano at the Los Angeles Convention Centre.

Charles' publicist Eric Raymond said the star's family had requested he be put on display as a final tribute to his fans.

More than 1,200 people are expected to attend his funeral later on Friday.

'Magical' Charles

Fans filed slowly by the coffin that stood on a catafalque - a raised platform - inside the Convention Centre, many of them stopping to sign the condolence book or write a message on a huge poster of Charles in performance.

Rev Charles Peters with Ray Charles doll
He made a lot of people happy... I'm here to pay my respects
Rev Charles Peters

One of the star's trademark black and silver jackets sat on the empty seat of the piano.

"The man is magical. He was one of the great musicians of all time... It was like he was God-sent," said Evelyn Alexander, 61, from Inglewood.

"I love Ray Charles. I love his music absolutely. He was a virtuoso, he played everything," said 70-year-old Berta Morley, choking back tears.

"There is no one else who can sing a song with the deep feeling he had," she added.

Reverand Charles Peters, 71, brought with him a mechanic Ray Charles doll, that sings "America the Beautiful" and "What I'd Say", while playing a miniature piano.

"He made a lot of people happy," said Rev Peters.

"I'm here to pay my respects."

Tributes and cortege

People who are expected to be at Charles' funeral include Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, veteran politician Reverend Jesse Jackson, former US president Bill Clinton, actress Cicely Tyson and country music star Glen Campbell.

Mourners queue to sign a picture of late musican Ray Charles
Mourners queued to sign a picture of the late musican
Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson and BB King will perform musical tributes at the service, which will take place at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles.

Recorded tributes from producer Quincy Jones, and comedian Bill Cosby are also expected to be played at the funeral.

After the funeral, Charles' cortege will pass in front of his Los Angeles recording studio and pause for a minute's silence, before travelling to Inglewood, California, for a private burial.

Charles, considered a pioneer of soul music, died of acute liver disease, which was diagnosed after he had hip replacement surgery in December.

Charles, who went blind aged six, kept a largely low profile during his recent ill health - but still managed to collaborate with other musicians.

The singer, who had made standards of songs such as Georgia on My Mind, Hit the Road Jack and I Can't Stop Loving You, had played 10,000 concerts during a 58-year career.

He had planned to tour again this summer.

David Ritz, biographer
"He was a tremendously driven man"


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