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Ray Charles

Ray Charles was the musician most responsible for developing soul music. Singers like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson also did a great deal to pioneer the form, but Charles did even more to devise a new form of black pop by merging '50s R&B with gospel-powered vocals, adding plenty of flavor from contemporary jazz, blues, and (in the '60s) country. Then there was his singing; his style was among the most emotional and easily identifiable of any 20th century performer, up there with the likes of Elvis and Billie Holiday. He was also a superb keyboard player, arranger, and bandleader. The brilliance of his 1950s and '60s work, however, can't obscure the fact that he made few classic tracks after the mid-'60s, though he recorded often and performed until the year before his death.

Blind since the age of six (from glaucoma), Charles studied composition and learned many instruments at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind. His parents had died by his early teens, and he worked as a musician in Florida for a while before using his savings to move to Seattle in 1947. By the late '40s, he was recording in a smooth pop/R&B style derivative of Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. He got his first Top Ten R&B hit with "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" in 1951. Charles' first recordings came in for their fair share of criticism, as they were much milder and less original than the classics that would follow, although they're actually fairly enjoyable, showing strong hints of the skills that were to flower in a few years.

In the early '50s, Charles' sound started to toughen as he toured with Lowell Fulson, went to New Orleans to work with Guitar Slim (playing piano on and arranging Slim's huge R&B hit, "The Things That I Used to Do"), and got a band together for R&B star Ruth Brown. It was at Atlantic Records that Ray Charles truly found his voice, consolidating the gains of recent years and then some with "I Got a Woman," a number-two R&B hit in 1955. This is the song most frequently singled out as his pivotal performance, on which Charles first truly let go with his unmistakable gospel-ish moan, backed by a tight, bouncy horn-driven arrangement.

Throughout the '50s, Charles ran off a series of R&B hits that, although they weren't called "soul" at the time, did a lot to pave the way for soul by presenting a form of R&B that was sophisticated without sacrificing any emotional grit. "This Little Girl of Mine," "Drown in My Own Tears," "Hallelujah I Love Her So," "Lonely Avenue," and "The Right Time" were all big hits. But Charles didn't really capture the pop audience until "What'd I Say," which caught the fervor of the church with its pleading vocals, as well as the spirit of rock & roll with its classic electric piano line. It was his first Top Ten pop hit, and one of his final Atlantic singles, as he left the label at the end of the '50s for ABC.

One of the chief attractions of the ABC deal for Charles was a much greater degree of artistic control of his recordings. He put it to good use on early-'60s hits like "Unchain My Heart" and "Hit the Road Jack," which solidified his pop stardom with only a modicum of polish attached to the R&B he had perfected at Atlantic. In 1962, he surprised the pop world by turning his attention to country & western music, topping the charts with the "I Can't Stop Loving You" single, and making a hugely popular album (in an era in which R&B/soul LPs rarely scored high on the charts) with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Perhaps it shouldn't have been so surprising; Charles had always been eclectic, recording quite a bit of straight jazz at Atlantic, with noted jazz musicians like David "Fathead" Newman and Milt Jackson.

Charles remained extremely popular through the mid-'60s, scoring big hits like "Busted," "You Are My Sunshine," "Take These Chains From My Heart," and "Crying Time," although his momentum was slowed by a 1965 bust for heroin. This led to a year-long absence from performing, but he picked up where he left off with "Let's Go Get Stoned" in 1966. Yet by this time Charles was focusing increasingly less on rock and soul, in favor of pop tunes, often with string arrangements, that seemed aimed more at the easy listening audience than anyone else. Charles' influence on the rock mainstream was as apparent as ever; Joe Cocker and Steve Winwood in particular owe a great deal of their style to him, and echoes of his phrasing can be heard more subtly in the work of greats like Van Morrison.

One approaches sweeping criticism of Charles with hesitation; he was an American institution, after all, and his vocal powers barely diminished over his half-century career. The fact remains, though, that his work after the late '60s on record was very disappointing. Millions of listeners yearned for a return to the all-out soul of his 1955-1965 classics, but Charles had actually never been committed to soul above all else. Like Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, his focus was more upon all-around pop than many realize; his love of jazz, country, and pop standards was evident, even if his more earthy offerings were the ones that truly broke ground and will stand the test of time. He dented the charts (sometimes the country ones) occasionally, and commanded devoted international concert audiences whenever he felt like it. For good or ill, he ensured his imprint upon the American mass consciousness in the 1990s by singing several ads for Diet Pepsi. He also recorded three albums during the '90s for Warner Bros., but remained most popular as a concert draw. In 2002, he released Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again on his own Crossover imprint, and the following year began recording an album of duets featuring B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, and James Taylor. After hip replacement surgery in 2003, he scheduled a tour for the following summer, but was forced to cancel an appearance in March 2004. Three months later, on June 10, 2004, Ray Charles succumbed to liver disease at his home in Beverly Hills, CA. The duets album, Genius Loves Company, was released two months after his death. The biopic Ray hit screens in the fall of 2010 and was a critical and commercial success, with the actor who portrayed Charles in the move, Jamie Foxx, winning the 2005 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role. Two more posthumous albums, Genius & Friends and Ray Sings, Basie Swings, appeared in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Charles' recordings began reappearing in various facsimile editions, reissues, re-masters, and box sets as his entire recorded legacy received the attention that befits a legendary American artist. ~ Richie Unterberger $ Steve Leggett, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
Disc 5

Comments

I like several songs by Ray Charles. He was really good.
ray's actual is proud here giving all in this song to his woman
Sing it Ray
That song belongs to Ray Charles! It makes me so homesick for that great state. Everytime I layover in Georgia I don't want to leave.
Only part I dislike is the part when he says a woman's place is in the home, but today is different times, so I can understand.
claymaryanne
Ray Charles hometown is Greenville Florida. Just 45 minutes from where I live. My friends dad knew him when they were children. before he lost his eye sight. they went to the same school.
queen.fuse
forever and ever!!!
Ray Charles is a badass
I'm 14 years old. And he is my favorite artist. No question
The best memory of my college years was the Senior Prom because Ray Charles provided the entertainmen t . It wasn't like a concert where the entertainer is on stage. He was on the dance floor seated at a grand piano. He did all of his hits including Georgia on My Mind. It was unforgettabl e to be dancing while the great Ray Charles was singing and playing the piano. It's been 49 years. Thanks for the memories to last a lifetime, Ray Charles.
t_heath
You Don't Know Me is as good as it gets......su c h soul.....
Love Ray Charles and all his Music!!!!
fuller7333
Ray is the man
Best ever in the 50s and 60s eras
Never heard these two together Great sound.
I got a MAN way over town. He's good to me! ����
dragonlady60 8 8
Ray...was the man rip.xoxo u r missed
Ray Charles and Willie Nelson what a great pair. Cant beat them singing together WOW.
Ray Charles was the s**t
LIKE !!!!!!
Van,& Ray had a blast. U can hear it.
When the good Lord envisioned music, he had RAY on his list of list. The man was a genius. Pure heaven
i luv him & his music!
i luv him i have The movie of ray
great
Love this type of music
psherman5
Can't be duplicated.. . . R a y Charles rocked!
L like it
I still have my dreams.....o f being as rightous as can beeee.....zz z z . . . e e . . p e a c e for my Aj and Ruby...fathe r s dont fight unless its that good fight.....!! ! ! j u s t saying
Is it correct that the movie starring Foxx released in 2010 when Foxx won the Academy Award for the role in 2005? According to IMBD the movie, Ray, released in 2004.
R.I.P. Ray Charles you will forever be missed and never forgotten
dragonlady60 8 8
Love love ray...have the movie...rip ray u r missed xoxo
Can't top loving you
My he rest in peace miss you Mr. Charles
Superb musician, he is a pleasure to listen to for hours
Whenever I hear this song I think of Paulette from the Bronx ....
BENITO BARRETO JIMENEZ ,.-´+´-., TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE ,.-´+´-., COLONIA MEXICO ,.-´+´-., GRACIAS ,.-´+´-.,
I



Love you ray soul man
RAY NOW THAT'S SOME SOUL COOOKN MY BROTHER! !!! EXCEPT SHORT RIBS N BLACK EYED PEAS &GREENS! LOVE YA!
Good. Song
dragonlady60 8 8
ray...is the man.....geor g i a
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in 2 days. Now you started reading this so don't stop. This is soscary put this on at least 5 songs in the next 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lovers name will appear on the screen in big letters this is so scary because it actually works.
I love all the above
He showed the world just because you are blind your can still do thinks
The genius of Ray Charles says it all.
Amazing talent!!!!
I appreciate that you mention Van Morrison in this bio. However, I am disappointed in NOT mentioning one of the most important albums of all time - Ray Charles and Betty Carter - the first main known crossover of soul and Jazz.
I hear this song, I think about rudy huckstable
Andrea lovell trinidad
Can anyone ever top t his man? I doubt it.
He showed the world the meaning of soul. I can only wish he was still with us.
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