- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2004

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE — LOS ANGELES — Music stars gathered here yesterday for the funeral of Ray Charles after thousands of fans filed past his open coffin to pay their last respects.

B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Wynton Marsalis and Billy Preston were among the musicians scheduled to perform at the funeral for the nicknamed “Genius of Soul” who died last week at age 73.

Former President Bill Clinton, legendary music producer Quincy Jones and comedian Bill Cosby recorded video tributes for the blind singer who died from liver disease.

Movie director and actor Clint Eastwood, actress Cicely Tyson, civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard were among the gathering of more than 1,200.

“There will be a lot of music, a lot of performances. Mr. Charles would have liked this,” said Eric Raymond, a member of Mr. Charles’ staff.

The First African Methodist Episcopal Church was surrounded by hundreds of floral tributes including one huge wreath in chrysanthemums that spelled out the letters “R.C.”

Many of the congregation waited in line for two hours to get through security for the funeral. Streets around the church were closed and police kept watch from hovering helicopters.

After the funeral, the Charles procession, led by a 26-strong motorcycle escort, passed in front of his recording studio, a Los Angeles landmark. The procession paused for “one minute of remembrance” before continuing to a private burial in the Inglewood district.

Organizers said up to 5,000 people paid tribute to Mr. Charles, whose casket was on display under the glass-and-steel dome of Los Angeles’ Convention Center.

Mr. Charles was dressed in his trademark dark glasses, a black suit and a bow tie.

“Everyone in the world feels his loss,” said Mr. Charles’ biographer, David Ritz, after leaving the tribute. “When he sang, he conveyed intimacy. He was driven to prove himself because he was blind and wanted to show he could succeed.”

Celeste Johnson, 37, said she came to pay her respects because the musician had been a unifying force in American life.

“He was the best. His legacy to black music is really important. He’s respected by all races. He brought us all together with his song ‘America the Beautiful,’” she said.

Mr. Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson to a poor family in Georgia on Sept. 23, 1930. Glaucoma led to his blindness at age 7. But his musical genius and ability to mix styles made him a household name and one of the rare musicians to be honored by the national halls of fame of rhythm and blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll.

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