RAY CHARLES : 1930-2004
The Soul of a Genius
For More Than 50 Years, Ray Charles's Musical Vision Knew No Limits
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2004; Page C01
Somewhere in America -- probably in a lot of somewheres in America -- folks are hearing a Ray Charles song or, more likely, a glorious string of Ray Charles songs, as they come to terms with the reality that one of the greatest voices, and possibly the most soulful voice, in the history of 20th-century American popular music has fallen silent.
Who knew Ray Charles was mortal?
His songs aren't, and they now offer comfort because they so instantly conjure Ray Charles in performance, sitting restlessly at his piano bench, rocking wildly side to side, his right leg pounding to the beat, head thrown back in ecstasy, the stage as bully pulpit for joy.
Close your eyes. The song you hear may be different; that is what will personalize every individual's sorrow at Charles's passing yesterday at age 73:
• The jubilant secularized gospel of "I've Got a Woman" and "Hallelujah, I Love Her So."
• The irresistibly funky club-meets-church jam "What'd I Say Parts I & II," with a roiling electric piano intro as familiar as "Chopsticks" and a lot more fun.
• The gut-bucket, blues-drenched declamation of "Drown in My Own Tears" and "A Fool for You."
• Hoagy Carmichael's sentimental ballad "Georgia on My Mind," a fleeting memory that could never belong to anyone else after Ray sang it.
• "Let the Good Times Roll," a classic big-band jazz collaboration with childhood pal Quincy Jones.
• The kiss-off of all kiss-offs, "Hit the Road Jack" (the first Charles record to top the pop and R&B charts simultaneously).
• "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a sly seasonal duet with Betty Carter that roasted chestnuts with no need of an open fire.
• "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "You Don't Know Me," both country pure and boundaryless.
• "Busted," the workingman's plaint with a smile at its heart.
• "America the Beautiful," the national hymn that never sounded as beautiful as when Ray Charles sketched it for us.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company