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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Sadness and joy at star's funeral

By Peter Bowes
BBC correspondent in Los Angeles

Funeral of Ray Charles
Some 1,500 mourners packed the church in Los Angeles
A colourful and moving funeral service has been held in Los Angeles for the legendary music star Ray Charles.

The so-called Genius of Soul died last week aged 73.

Some 1,500 invited guests packed into LA's First African Methodist Episcopal Church for a celebration of his life.

As well as big names from the world of entertainment - BB King, Glen Campbell, and Willie Nelson to name a few - many civic luminaries from the city of Los Angeles were also on hand.

They included LA's Major James Hahn and police chief William Bratton.

Former President Bill Clinton was not at the service but he sent a message expressing his affection for the late musician.

Emotional outpouring

The service, a joyous event that prompted as many laughs as tears, was opened by Ray Charles' son, Rev Robert Robinson.

"If you would do something for my family today, why don't you stand on your feet and give God some praise - because we're here to celebrate God today and thank God for this man," he told the congregation.

Stevie Wonder performs at Ray Charles' funeral
Stevie Wonder paid a musical tribute to Charles
"He's blessed us, he's blessed us. Say hallelujah, say hallelujah!"

The scene was set for an emotional outpouring of love for a virtuoso star that touched the lives of many.

"Long before I knew how much we had in common I knew there was a man that had a voice that touched my heart," explained Stevie Wonder, who said he did not realise Ray Charles was blind when he first heard his recordings.

"I knew that his voice made me feel like I wanted to love deeper, to care more and reach out and embrace the world," he said.

In his address, Rev Jesse Jackson told the congregation heaven now had a maestro.

"Ray, when you first get there, before you meet Count (Basie), before you meet Duke (Ellington), before you meet family and friends, there's a man over there, across the river who is giving sight to the blind!"

Praise

Several of the tributes highlighted Ray Charles' contribution to race relations.

"What pains me equally as much as knowing that we have in the physical state lost a genius, a king of song, is that Ray was not able to out-live hate and injustice," said Wonder.

Ray Charles
Ray Charles played 10,000 concerts during his 58-year career
Long-time friend Clint Eastwood praised Ray Charles as an educator.

"He worked so hard to be a perfectionist and entertain us all," he said. "He was a teacher who taught us about the blues, to people who didn't understand the blues. He taught us about country music.

"He re-instilled our interest in patriotic songs. Anything he touched was just good."

Hundreds of people gathered outside the church to pay their own respects.

"He was a wonderful man," said one fan. "I loved him dearly because I danced to a lot of his music and I went to a lot of his concerts."

"He was one of the greatest legends of the 20th century and he will live for more centuries than I think anyone else connected with music - he was a legend," added another.

The service itself had many musical highpoints. There were few dry eyes during Willie Nelson's rendition of Ray Charles' signature hit, Georgia On My Mind.

But Nelson also made the congregation smile. He was teased by the late star's long-time manager, Joe Adams, about always losing chess games to Ray Charles.

Nelson joked that after his last loss to his blind friend, he asked him: "Next time we play, can we turn the lights on?"




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



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