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Rock Hall Anniversary: Death of Ray Charles

Ten years ago, a music world lost a soul pioneer when on June 10, 2004, Ray Charles passed away at the age of 73 after battling liver disease. In the 1950s, he fused the styles of rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues, while country and pop in the 1960s. Charles would break ground in other ways as well, becoming one of the first African-Americans musicians to receive artistic control from a major label.

During the 1950s, Charles became Atlantic Records’ first superstars alongside other R&B pioneers including Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker. The mixture of gospel, jazz and blues became pivotal not only for the development of both soul and rock and roll music. Some of the Charles’s hit during this period include “I Got a Woman”, “The Night Time (Is the Right Time), and “Drown in My Own Tears”.

In 1959, he crossover to pop for the first time with the hit “What’d I Say”, and scored his first top forty album with The Genius of Ray Charles. Later that year, he signed to ABC-Paramount Records, and it was followed by two pivotal moments in Charles career. The first was the chart-topping cover of “Georgia on My Mind” (which went on to be adopted as Georgia’s state song in 1979), and then came the album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which also topped the charts, and is considered as one of the greatest albums of all time. Other hits in the 1960s including the album Crying Time and the single “You Don’t Know Me”.

At the time of his death, he was recording the album Genius Loves Company, which was released two months after and among the artists featured included Norah Jones, James Taylor, Natalie Cole and Willie Nelson. It topped the charts, sold over three million copies, and was named Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. But by that time, Charles’s contribution to popular culture was firmly secured, as one of the greatest musicians in rock and roll history, inspiring countless artists including Aretha Franklin (who covered many of his songs), Elton John and Billy Joel.

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