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Elton John World News: Ray Charles On Our Mind

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Elton recently recorded for Ray's forthcoming Duets album

Friday 11 June 2004 @ 13:58 - GMT

Soul grandfather Ray Charles, died on June 10, 2004 after a long battle with liver disease. He was 73.

Charles overcame poverty, blindness and heroin addiction to lay the foundation for soul music and become one of America's most beloved entertainers. He will be most remembered for such hits as Georgia On My Mind, I Can't Stop Loving You and Hit the Road Jack.

"The death of Ray Charles is an incredible loss for the world of music. He inspired so many people and his music will live forever," said Elton, who recorded a duet with Charles in March on Elton's song Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.

He was also much admired by Elton's piano duo pal Billy Joel, who recorded with Charles and also penned the song Baby Grand in 1985 in tribute, singing it in a voice similar to Charles's. Ray Charles joined him for vocals and piano with Billy on that song.

Charles died on Thursday at his Beverly Hills home, surrounded by family, friends and business associates, according to the singer's longtime publicist Jerry Digney.

"Mr. Charles was conscious and engaged almost to the end, and wanted the world to know that he will miss the chance to entertain his many family and friends, as he had done, up until last summer, for the past 58 years," longtime manager Joe Adams said at a news conference outside the musician's studio.

Charles made his final public appearance on April 30, 2004, turning up in a motorised wheelchair for a ceremony dedicating his longtime recording studio in Los Angeles as an historic landmark.

Visibly frail, his voice reduced to a whisper, Charles' demeanour then was a far cry from the wildly enthusiastic performer known to millions of fans for more than half a century.

Charles came into his own musically in the early 1950s after signing with Atlantic Records, where he recorded the seminal hit I Got a Woman, popularly credited as the first true soul record ever made.

He went on to collect 13 Grammy Awards during his career, including a lifetime achievement honour in 1987. He played his 10,000th concert last May in Los Angeles and in 2002 celebrated the 40th anniversary of his first hit on the country music charts, I Can't Stop Loving You.

Charles had been finishing work on an upcoming CD of duets, titled Genius Loves Company, with such performers as Elton John, Norah Jones, B.B. King, Diana Krall, Johnny Mathis and Willie Nelson. It is slated for release at the end of summer 2004.

[Ed. It will be interesting to see whether Elton will pay a tribute to Ray at tonight's Bristol City show in the UK. We will be at the venue for a live report.]