Few artists have singularly changed the music industry forever like Ray Charles, widely considered one of music’s greatest legends. Charles, who was blind most of his life, pioneered the genre of soul music and left an indelible mark on musicians all over the world. He died June 10, 2004 at the age of 73.
Charles blended the sounds of gospel, blues, country and jazz music to create songs that would last through the ages. Frank Sinatra dubbed Charles “the only true genius in show business,” and not without good reason. His music influenced dozens of major blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll musicians over the decades, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel.
When it came to naming his own influences, Charles told Rolling Stone in a 1973 interview, “I guess you could call me a sentimentalist, man, really. I like Chopin or Sibelius. People who write softness, you know, and although Beethoven to me was quite heavy, he wrote some really touching songs.”
Charles was born in 1930 in Albany, Georgia, but his family moved to Florida when he was still a child. He began playing piano at the age of five, a year before contracting glaucoma, a disease that affects the eye’s optic nerve and can cause blindness if left untreated.
Here are five songs to commemorate the legendary musician on the anniversary of his death.
1. “Georgia On My Mind.” Charles’ version of the song was released in 1960 and became the official state song of Georgia in 1979.
2. “Hit The Road Jack.” Also released in 1960, Charles’ “Hit The Road Jack” hit number one on “Billboard’s” Hot 100 list for two weeks in a row in October 1961.
3. “What’d I Say.” Charles wrote the song in front of a live audience in late 1958 or early 1959, according to Rolling Stone. This was Charles’ first Top 10 pop single.
4. “Here We Go Again.” Originally recorded in 1967, “Here We Go Again” has seen five different versions reach the top of the music charts.
5. “Busted.” Charles covered the song in 1963.