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About this playlist

Any performer can cover a song or steal a riff. Plenty of artists can reinterpret or reconfigure popular tunes. But it takes a special combination of talent, taste and guts to make virtually any song you touch yours, no matter the genre or tempo. Which is one reason Ray Charles found himself nicknamed "The Genius" early on in his long career. Not only was he comfortable with every style of contemporary American music, but he also had the confidence and chops to erase supposedly rigid musical boundaries. And he always did it with style -- just listen to him have his way with the dated minstrelsy of "Swanee River" in a way even Louis Armstrong couldn't manage.

This playlist offers a quick tour of the music Ray Charles knew, loved and then claimed as his own, from riffs and melodies he picked up on the blues circuit (check out the way lines from 1928's "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" made their way into "Mess Around" and "What'd I Say"), to the spirituals he secularized ("It Must Be Jesus" becoming "I Got a Woman"). You'll hear Brother Ray's debt to early inspiration Charles Brown, onetime boss Lowell Fulson, and Louis Jordan; his jazz technique (Charles could hold his own with vibist Milt Jackson, with whom he cut an album for Atlantic); and his lifelong love for country and Western pop. As an added bonus, listen for the demo version of "Hit the Road Jack" from fellow soul singer Percy Mayfield, blues singer Lula Reed's mostly forgotten 1951 "I'll Drown in My Tears" (which became "Drown in My Own Tears"), and three tracks from girl group The Cookies, who eventually became The Raelettes, offering impeccable backup on many a classic Ray Charles song.

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