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Ray Charles 1930-2004: Part 1 of 4

C. Michael Bailey By

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

This is an off-the-cuff homage to an American original, not that unlike the recently passed Ronald Reagan (regardless of what our political inclinations may be). There is no other musician, American or not, who can be compared to Ray Charles. Period.

Ray Charles' death is as monumental a loss to American culture as any that we have had in the past ten years. There is no need for this writer to recount Mr. Charles' accomplishments. The body of his contribution is too great and the recounting would take too long. He did not simply influence American music. This graceful and determined man defined American music.

Who are similar artists that preceded Charles? They would have had to transcend genres. That might include Jimmie Rodgers, father of Country Music, Bill Monroe, Big Mon , father of Bluegrass Music, Bob Wills, the father of Western Swing, Charlie Patton, father of the Blues, or Louis Armstrong, father of Improvised Jazz.

But, no—Ray Charles was none of these. Mr. Charles was all of these. He was the unifying element of all American music. And now that he is gone, who is going to accept the mantle of responsibility for both documenting the past and pioneering the future?

Van Morrison is the most likely, as well he should be. Contemporary Willie Nelson is also a healthy contender. Prince is another candidate. The pickings become pretty slim after that. Beck is a possible, if he can divorce himself of the self-indulgent adolescent tripe that he and Jack White have made a cottage industry. No, those who are presently playing, save for Van Morrison, are simply so many patches of greasy foam floating down the defiled stream of popular music. There will never be another Ray Charles for the same reason there will be no more Bachs, Mozarts, or Beethovens. Just because there is a limited amount of that God-given talent.

That is, in my humble opinion.


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