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Obituary

Ray Charles

Frequently Asked Questions:
When did Ray Charles Die? Answer: June 10th 2004 aged 73.
What caused Ray Charles's death? Answer: Liver Disease.

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Ray Charles died aged seventy-three at his home in Beverly Hills, California, U.S.A. on 10th June 2004, surrounded by family and friends, as a result of acute liver disease. His funeral took place on June 18th 2004, at the First AME Church in Los Angeles with numerous musical figures in attendance. B. B. King, Glen Campbell, Stevie Wonder and Wynton Marsalis each played a tribute at the funeral. He was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery.
Ray Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson on September 23rd 1930. Among friends and fellow musicians he preferred being called "Brother Ray." He was often referred to as "The Genius." Ray Charles was blind from the age of seven.
Ray pioneered the genre of soul music during the 1950's by combining blues, rhythm and blues, and gospel styles into the music he recorded for Atlantic Records. He also contributed to the integration of country music, rhythm and blues and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his two Modern Sounds albums. While he was with ABC, Ray Charles became one of the first black musicians to be granted artistic control by a mainstream record company.
Ray Charles cited Nat King Cole as a primary influence, but his music was also influenced by country, jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues artists of the day, including Louis Jordan and Charles Brown. In the late forties, he became friends with Quincy Jones. Their friendship lasted until the end of Ray Charles's life.
Frank Sinatra called him "the only true genius in show business," although Ray Charles downplayed this notion. pic of Ray Charles
In 2002, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Ray Charles number ten on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time," and number two on their November 2008 list of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time."
Ray was the son of Bailey Robinson, a laborer, and Aretha Williams. At the time, she was a teenage orphan making a living as a sharecropper. They lived in Greenville, Florida, with Robinson's mother and his wife, Mary Jane Robinson. The Robinson family had informally adopted Aretha, and she became known as Aretha Robinson. When she, scandalously, became pregnant by Bailey, she briefly left Greenville late in the summer of 1930 to be with family members in Albany, Georgia, for the baby's birth. After that, mother and child returned to Greenville, and Aretha and Mary Jane shared Ray's upbringing. He was deeply devoted to his mother and later recalled her perseverance, self-sufficiency, and pride as guiding lights in his life. His father abandoned the family, left Greenville, and took another wife elsewhere.
In his early years, Ray Charles showed an interest in mechanical objects and would often watch his neighbors working on their cars and farm machinery. His musical curiosity was sparked at Wylie Pitman's Red Wing Cafe, at the age of three, when Pitman played boogie woogie on an old upright piano; Pitman subsequently taught Ray Charles how to play the piano. Ray Charles and his mother were always welcome at the Red Wing Cafe and even lived there when they were in financial difficulty. Pitman would also care for Ray's brother George, to take the burden off Aretha. George drowned in Aretha's laundry tub when he was four years old and Ray was five. Ray Charles started to lose his sight at the age of four or five, and was completely blind by the age of seven. Destitute, uneducated and still mourning the loss of George, Aretha used her connections in the local community to find a school that would accept a blind African-American student. Despite his initial protest, Ray Charles attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine from 1937 to 1945.
Ray Charles further developed his musical talent at school and was taught to play the classical piano music of J.S. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. His teacher taught him how to read music using braille which was a difficult process that requires learning the left hand movements by reading braille with the right hand and learning the right hand movements by reading braille with the left hand, and then combining the two parts. While Ray Charles was happy to play classical music, he was more interested in the jazz, blues and country music he heard on the radio. On Fridays, the South Campus Literary Society held assemblies at which Ray Charles would play piano and sing popular songs. On both Halloween and George Washington's birthday, the black department of the school held socials at which Ray Charles would play. It was here he established "RC Robinson and the Shop Boys" and sang his own arrangement of "Jingle Bell Boogie". During this time, he performed on WFOY radio in St. Augustine.
Aretha died in the spring of 1945, when Ray Charles was fourteen years old. Her death came as a shock to him; he later said that the deaths of his brother and mother were "the two great tragedies" of his life. Ray Charles returned to school after the funeral but was expelled in October for playing a prank on his teacher.
After leaving school, Ray Charles moved to Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his mother. He played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla for over a year, earning $4 a night. He also joined the musicians’ union in the hope that it would help him get work. He befriended many union members, but others were less kind to him because he would monopolize the union hall’s piano, since he did not have one at home. He started to build a reputation as a talented musician in Jacksonville, but the jobs did not come fast enough for him to construct a strong identity. He decided to leave Jacksonville and move to a bigger city with more opportunities.
At age sixteen Ray Charles moved to Orlando, where he lived in borderline poverty and went without food for days. It was difficult for musicians to find work, as since World War II had ended there were no “G.I. Joes” left to entertain. Ray Charles eventually started to write arrangements for a pop music band, and in the summer of 1947 he unsuccessfully auditioned to play piano for Lucky Millinder and his sixteen-piece band.
In 1947, Ray Charles moved to Tampa, Florida, where he had two jobs: one as a pianist for Charles Brantley's Honeydippers, a seven-piece band, and another as a member of a white country band called the Florida Playboys. This is when he began his habit of always wearing sunglasses, made by the designer Billy Stickles. In his early career, he modeled himself on Nat "King" Cole.
Ray Charles had always played piano for other people, but he was keen to have his own band. He decided to leave Florida for a large city, and, considering Chicago and New York City too big, followed his friend Gossie McKee to Seattle, Washington, in March 1948, knowing that the biggest radio hits came from northern cities. Here he met and befriended, under the tutelage of Robert Blackwell, a fifteen year-old Quincy Jones.
Ray started playing the one-to-five A.M. shift at the Rocking Chair with his band McSon Trio, which featured McKee on guitar and Milton Garrett on bass. Publicity photos of the trio are some of the earliest known photographs of Ray Charles. In April 1949, he and his band recorded "Confession Blues", which became his first national hit, soaring to the second spot on the Billboard R&B chart. While still working at the Rocking Chair, he also arranged songs for other artists, including Cole Porter's "Ghost of a Chance" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Emanon". After the success of his first two singles, Ray Charles moved to Los Angeles in 1950, and spent the next few years touring with the blues musician Lowell Fulson as his musical director.
pic of Ray Charles In 1950, his performance in a Miami hotel impressed Henry Stone, who went on to record a Ray Charles Rockin' record . During his stay in Miami, Ray Charles was required to stay in the segregated but thriving black community of Overtown.
After joining Swing Time Records, he recorded two more R&B hits under the name Ray Charles: "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" (1951), which reached number five, and "Kissa Me Baby"(1952), which reached number eight. Swing Time folded the following year, and Ahmet Ertegün signed him to Atlantic Records.
Ray Charles was married twice and had twelve children with nine different women. His first child, Evelyn, was born in 1949 to his companion, Louise Flowers. His first marriage was to Eileen Williams Robinson and lasted from July 31, 1951, to 1952.
His second marriage, to Della Beatrice Howard Robinson , began on April 5, 1955, and lasted 22 years. Their first child together, Ray Jr., was born in 1955. Ray Charles was not in town for the birth, as he was playing a show in Texas. The couple had two more children, David and Robert.
Ray Charles had a six-year-long affair with Margie Hendricks, one of the original Raelettes, and in 1959 they had a son, Charles Wayne. His affair with Mae Mosley Lyles resulted in another daughter, Raenee, born in 1961. In 1963, Ray Charles had a daughter, Sheila Jean Robinson, with Sandra Jean Betts. In 1966, his daughter Aretha was born to a woman who remains unidentified, and another daughter, Alexandra, was born to Chantal Bertrand. Ray Charles divorced Della Howard in 1977. Later that year he had a son, Vincent, with Arlette Kotchounian. A daughter, Robyn, was born a year later to Gloria Moffett. His youngest child, a son, Ryan Corey den Bok, was born in 1987 to Mary Anne den Bok.
In 2003, Ray Charles had successful hip replacement surgery and was planning to go back on tour, until he began suffering from other ailments.

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song: I've Gotta Woman by Ray Charles