Jones, who described Charles' musicianship as "unmatched," served as a composer or arranger on "The Great Ray Charles" and "The Genius of Ray Charles," two seminal Atlantic albums from the late 1950s that established Charles' jazz credentials. Charles sang a duet with Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You," a track from Jones' 1989 pop album, "Back on the Block."
Charles' group, the Maxin Trio, recorded its first R&B hit, "Confession Blues," in Los Angeles in 1949. Charles, who had dropped his last name to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, released a single under his own name in 1951 for the Swing Time label, and it would have far more impact than its No. 5 R&B chart showing would suggest.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 12, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Ray Charles -- The obituary of singer Ray Charles in Friday's Section A said he composed the theme song of the TV series "Three's Company." It was written by Don Nicholl and Joe Raposo.
"Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" was Ertegun's introduction to Charles' singing, and he called it "a staggering experience." The label owner was so swept up by "that thrilling, amazing and soulful voice" that he nearly wore the record out. Soon after, Ertegun and Atlantic purchased the singer's contract, a move that would prove to be a franchise-building coup for the label.
"He was the artist that put us on the map and there would be no person more responsible for the success of Atlantic Records than Ray Charles," Ertegun said Thursday.
It would be a while before Charles made that mark, and it was a stint with New Orleans blues musician Guitar Slim that set Charles on his musical path. He arranged and played piano on Slim's million-selling single "Things I Used to Do," and that record's rough style stayed with Charles, surfacing in his sensuous recording "I've Got a Woman."
That song hit No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1955 and was followed in the top spot by "A Fool for You" and "Drown in My Own Tears." But it was his 1959 recording of "What'd I Say" that marked his arrival at the forefront of popular music. With its urgent, Latin-flavored rhythm and sexy call-and-response bridge, it became his first million-seller and his introduction to the Top 10 on the pop charts.
"With the success of 'What'd I Say' ... Ray brought gospel and R&B to a crossover audience and forever changed the course of popular music," singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt said in a statement Thursday. "It's impossible to overestimate the impact his music has had on generations of musicians around the world."
Though the record made him a star, Charles -- whose versatility and command earned him the sobriquet "the Genius" -- was too mercurial an artist to be easily categorized.
"I never considered myself part of rock 'n' roll," he wrote in "Brother Ray," his 1978 autobiography. "My stuff was more adult. It was more difficult for teenagers to relate to; my stuff was filled with more despair than anything you'd associate with rock 'n' roll. Since I couldn't see people dancing, I didn't write jitterbugs or twists. I wrote rhythms that moved me. My style requires pure heart singing."
The catholic musical taste that would be the hallmark of his career was evident early in his enthusiasm for jazz (he once said the "genius" tag really belonged to his keyboard hero, Art Tatum), his facility at singing gospel music at church and his fondness for listening to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry radio show.
Charles made an unprecedented musical foray after leaving Atlantic and signing with ABC-Paramount, applying his soulful style to songs by Hank Williams, Don Gibson, Eddy Arnold and other country songwriters on "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."
"There's an expansiveness about what he was able to bring forth that changed the way people perceived country music in general and in many profound ways from that day forward," Dan Cooper, former content curator for the County Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, said Thursday. "For some audience members who weren't as tuned into country music, for someone of Ray Charles' stature not only to sing those songs but to say overtly, 'These are my interpretations of country music,' that had a huge impact."
Charles returned to country music regularly over the years and is part of the Country Music Hall of Fame's permanent exhibit in a section devoted to musicians who brought new audiences to the genre.
"Modern Sounds" topped the album chart for 14 weeks and the single "I Can't Stop Loving You" was the biggest-selling single of 1962. Other hits from the early '60s included "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit the Road Jack" and "Busted."
Charles' career was at a peak in the mid-'60s when he was arrested in Boston for possession of heroin and marijuana. He revealed that he'd been addicted to heroin for 20 years, but he kicked the habit in 1965.
Charles' music gradually moved into a more mainstream mode as he continued to record and tour. He interpreted songs by the Beatles, Randy Newman and Stevie Wonder as well as Broadway tunes, wrote the theme for the TV series "Three's Company" and appeared in the movie "The Blues Brothers."
Some feared his schedule was taking a toll on him.