BEVERLY HILLS, CA Friday Jun.11.2004 / -- Ray Charles could play and sing anything -- jazz, blues, country, soul... You name it; he could do it. But perhaps even more impressive was his ability to touch those listening and leave a lasting effect. The man was soul. That was his genius and one of his many gifts to the world.

On Thursday (June 10), Charles passed away of complications resulting from liver disease. He was 73. At the time of his death, Charles was at his Beverly Hills, California home, surrounded by family, friends and his manager.

Charles overcame numerous obstacles on his path to becoming a musical legend. He was born September 23, 1930 into severe poverty, went blind by age 7 and was orphaned at age 15. Charles also struggled nearly twenty years with heroin addiction before he quit cold turkey in 1965 after he was arrested at the Boston airport.

In 1947, Charles moved to Seattle after studying music at Florida's St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind. Four years later, he landed his first top-10 R&B hit, "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand." In the mid-1950s, Charles helped pioneer the soul genre, releasing albums that mixed jazz, gospel, blues and, later, country and western. During his 58-year career, he won 12 Grammy awards and had numerous hits including "What'd I Say," "Unchain My Heart," "Drown in My Own Tears," "Night Time is the Right Time," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Georgia on My Mind" and "America the Beautiful."

"His sound was stunning -- it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing -- it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing," singer Van Morrison told Rolling Stone magazine in April, 2004.

Aretha Franklin called Ray Charles "the voice of a lifetime" and, in a statement, she noted that "he introduced the world to secular soul singing." Quincy Jones said of his longtime friend, "There will never be another musician who did as much to break down the perceived walls of musical genres as Ray Charles did."

Charles once remarked, "Music was one of my parts... Like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me - like food or water." Anyone who's ever heard a Ray Charles song would have to agree.

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