Ray Charles

Ray Charles

A keyboard virtuoso and powerful vocalist, Ray Charles was one of the most influential black musicians of the 20th century. His revolutionary addition of high-energy gospel vocals to R&B was, to a large degree, responsible for the development of soul music.

Ray Charles was blinded by glaucoma at the age of six, but he did not let this disability hurt his pride or confidence. His music career began after he moved to Seattle in 1947. Within several years he had begun recording and within half a decade he had created his original style. His songs of the later 50's, although they were called R&B at the time, did a lot to pave the way for soul. In 1962, he shocked the world by making a sudden transition to country and western music, but his popularity did not decrease.

Ray Charles' renditions of country tunes were received more positively than anyone had imagined. Charles remained extremely popular through the early 60's up to his 1965 arrest for heroin. Within a year he was back on tour and recorded several more hits in the late 60's, however most critics agree that by this time the quality of his music began to decline.

The enthusiasm and energy that had made him so popular seemed to be missing from his later recordings, and fans yearned for a return to the soul classics of the 50's and 60's. Despite the drop in quality of his recordings, Charles remained a very powerful concert draw, and continued to perform until the year before his death in June 2004.

Ray Charles' energetic vocal style is among the most unique and easily recognizable of any 20th century performer. His influence on the rock mainstream is very apparent; echoes of his style are embedded in the work of many rock giants. Over his long career, he demonstrated his versatility by successfully experimenting with many diffferent genres. Ray Charles was one of the true icons of the 20th century, and his recordings are still powerful to this day.

* Ray Charles' final album, which was released posthumously, was a collection of duets between Ray and some of the biggest names in contemporary popular music. The list includes B.B. King, Can Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Elton John, and Norah Jones. The album was recorded with both musicians in the studio at the same time, unlike a similar album by Frank Sinatra entitled Duets.

* In October of 2004, Ray Charles' life became the subject of the critically-acclaimed biographical film Ray . Although Charles died before the film's release, he was actively involved in its production. He met the actor who would portray him, Jamie Foxx, before production began. Foxx is himself a pianist, and the two jammed together for hours. When they finally finished, Ray Charles stood up and declared, "he's the one, he can do it."

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