Over Ray Charles
Heaven and earth battle it out in the music of Ray Charles, who combined gospel with the best of secular music and helped give birth to soul, rock, and hard bop. His early work showed the silky influences of the Nat "King" Cole trio and the piano blues great Charles Brown. Charles combined their sophisticated styles with R&B and gritty gospel to create his signature sound: hard, snappy piano combined with exquisite vocals that fall somewhere between a preacher gone bad and a yearning romantic balladeer. Charles absorbed styles like a sponge: big band jazz, country and pop were all added to his musical arsenal, and he built up a musical empire that kept him in the public eye for decades up until his untimely death, at the age of 73, in June 2004. Just prior to his passing, Charles cut his first duets record with such fans as Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, and Elton John, which illustrates a multi-generational sampling of the artists who list him as a prime influence. An American institution, Ray Charles' rendition of "Georgia on My Mind" has even become that state's anthem. If only the other 49 states could be as fortunate.