Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Ray Charles, the master of many styles, dies at 73

MUSIC LEGEND Liver disease took one of popular music's most prolific and versatile performers, whose hits included `Georgia on My Mind' and 'What'd I Say'

AFP , LOS ANGELES

Musician Ray Charles performs in Lucerne, Switzerland on Nov. 25, 2002. Charles died on Thursday at the age of 73.

PHOTO:EPA

US music legend Ray Charles, dubbed the "Genius of Soul" during his acclaimed six-decade career, died Thursday of liver disease at age 73.

The 13-time Grammy-award winner, famed for his jazz, blues and gospel-influenced tunes, died at his Beverly Hills home, surrounded by his family and friends, publicist Jerry Digney said.

"It's devastating," Digney said.

"He's been ailing for while now and it started out with a hip situation and went from there to other things, primarily the liver," he said.

Charles went blind at age seven, but songs such as Georgia on My Mind and I Can't Stop Loving You made him a household name and gave him the rare honor of being enshrined in the US halls of fame of rhythm and blues, jazz and rock.

"Music to me is just like breathing. I have to have it. It's part of me," Charles once told an interviewer of his rags-to-riches career.

Last August, he cancelled part of a concert tour for the first time in 53 years and underwent hip replacement surgery in December.

As doctors treated him, other ailments were diagnosed. Liver disease set in and he eventually succumbed to complications from it.

He celebrated the 10,000th concert of his 58-year career early last year and gave his last performance on July 20, 2003.

Charles last appeared in public on April 30 alongside film star Clint Eastwood when his Los Angeles studios were designated an historic landmark.

As a performer who could play the piano, clarinet and saxophone by the time he was 15, Charles was at home with orchestras, with his grand piano and bandmates or just singing a capella.

Some of the biggest hits of his career included What'd I Say, Born To Lose, and Hit the Road Jack.

"Ray Charles was a true original, a musical genius and a friend and brother to me," said Joe Adams, his longtime manager and friend.

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson to a poor family in Albany, Georgia on Sept. 30, 1930, at the height of racial segregation in the US, and was orphaned by 15.

After losing his sight, Charles was sent to a school for the deaf and blind in St. Augustine, Florida, where his gift and lifelong passion for music emerged.

In the 1940s, the young pianist made his way to Seattle, where he played in nightclubs, modeling himself on Nat "King" Cole, and forged a lifelong friendship with producer Quincy Jones.

He developed his own unique style, mixing musical genres, and first recorded in 1949. In 1955, his experiments culminated in the release of I Got a Woman, which mixed gospel tunes with his nightclub sound.

"I was raised in the church and was around blues and would hear all these musicians on the jukeboxes and then I would go to revival meetings on Sunday morning," he once said.

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