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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) - Ray Charles, a transcendent talent who erased musical boundaries between the sacred and the secular with hits such as "What'd I Say,""Georgia on My Mind" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," died Thursday. He was 73.

Charles died of acute liver disease at his Beverly Hills home at 11:35 a.m., surrounded by family and friends, said spokesman Jerry Digney.

Blind by age 7 and an orphan at 15, the gifted pianist and saxophonist spent his life shattering any notion of musical categories and defying easy definition. One of the first artists to record the "blasphemous idea of taking gospel songs and putting the devil's words to them," as legendary producer Jerry Wexler once said, Charles' music spanned gospel, R&B, soul, rock 'n' roll, country, jazz, big band and blues.

He put his stamp on it all with a deep, warm voice roughened by heartbreak from a hardscrabble childhood in the segregated South. Smiling and swaying behind the piano, grunts and moans peppering his songs, Charles' appeal spanned generations.

Aretha Franklin called Charles "the voice of a lifetime."

"He was a fabulous man, full of humor and wit," she said in a statement. "A giant of an artist, and of course, he introduced the world to secular soul singing."

Billy Joel, a fellow piano man, said many artists tried to emulate Charles, "among them myself, Rod Stewart, Joe ****er, Steve Winwood and countless others. Ray Charles defined rhythm and blues, soul, and authentic rock 'n' roll."

"People remember the big hits and the visual image of him, but they forget what an innovator he was in the 1950s as a jazz musician," said country music singer Marty Stuart. "He made inroads for all of us when he did 'I Can't Stop Loving You.' It took country music to places it hadn't been before."

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