Ray Charles

'Genius' Lives On

RayConcord Records this week releases the star-studded duets album "Genius Loves Company" by Ray Charles. While the project was highly anticipated in its own right, the legendary performer's June 10 death is expected to propel the title to even greater heights.

Concord executive VP/senior VP of A&R John Burk says the idea of cutting a duet set arose after Charles signed up for a Concord album last year. "Some of [the duet partners] were really important to Ray, because they were some of the best friends that he had in life -- B.B. King and Willie Nelson and Gladys Knight fall into that category. Then there are artists on the other end of the spectrum, like Norah Jones. That came about because I was reading one of her articles early on in her career, and she cited Ray as a major influence."

Other singers appearing on the set include James Taylor, Diana Krall, Elton John, Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald, Johnny Mathis and Van Morrison.

Keyboardist Billy Preston, who first performed with Charles as a teenager, plays on three of the duets. He says that though the singer/pianist was in failing health during some of the sessions, he stayed on top of the music.

"Ray was very weak at the time," Preston recalls, "but he would come back and listen to the track and see if he liked it or not. We would make adjustments to the track as he wished. He was very much actively involved."