On This Day: Legendary Musician Ray Charles Dies in 2004

by Madison Miller

On June 10, 2004, the iconic singer behind hits like “Hit the Road Jack,” “Unchain My Heart,” and “Georgia On My Mind” passed away at the age of 73.

Ray Charles, or “Brother Ray” as his friends called him, had an interesting and trailblazing mix of genres cooking in each of his tracks. From soul to rock to country music, Ray Charles’ musical infusions were unlike anyone else. They continue to stand out today as people mourn the 17-year anniversary of his passing.

Charles Career as ‘The Genius’

The last his fans saw of him was on April 30. This is when Los Angeles designated his studios located on Washington Boulevard a historic landmark.

He certainly was historic. His music crossed boundaries and paved the way for new sounds. It’s no surprise he got the nickname “The Genius” during his career.

He was known for being a massive crossover success. His ABC Records albums called “Modern Sounds” were revolutionary during the 1960s. In fact, he was one of the first Black musicians to get complete artistic control from a mainstream recording company at the time.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Ray Charles passed away due to complications related to his liver disease. Prior to passing away, Charles had successfully undergone hip replacement surgery. As a result, he canceled a concert tour for the very first time in 53 years spent singing to audiences all around the world.

As he recovered from the surgery, his health slowly started to deteriorate. The soulful inspiration was also blind since he was a child, but it never stalled his path toward becoming one of the greatest musicians in history. He was blinded due to glaucoma.

His rhythm and style had an influence on other successful artists like Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, and Billy Joel.

Up until his death, he was still fulfilling his lifelong passion of time spent in a studio. He had an album of duets with artists like Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Elton John, Norah Jones, and Bonnie Raitt.

One of Ray Charles’ most popular appearances was in the hit movie, “The Blues Brothers.” He sang hits like “Shake a Tail Feather.”

Ray Charles Giving Back

His incredible legacy continues to live on as well. According to NOLA, Dillard University just received $1 million from the Ray Charles Foundation. The money will go toward a scholarship in food studies. It will also support the broader program focused on African-American culture.

The grant supports the Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture, which also launched a food studies minor. Zella Palmer, the program’s director and chair said the program is committed “to continue to build on Ray Charles’ vision and mission to celebrate, preserve and document African-American material culture.”

Ray Charles founded The Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders Inc. when he was alive back in 1986. The Ray Charles Foundation was founded shortly after his death. His quote, “There is no challenge too great one cannot overcome” is sitting comfortably front-and-center on the official website.

From pioneering the soul-sound to giving back and warming the soul, Ray Charles was unlike anyone else.