After a career that has redefined the possibilities of American music, Ray Charles is getting a nice present for his 67th birthday this month: a 101-song, 5-CD box set, Genius & Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection (Rhino), with hits from "What'd I Say" to "Georgia on My Mind." The divorced father of nine—who has been blind since age 7—lives in L.A.
Your nickname is the Genius. Whom do you consider to be a genius?
Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson. But for piano, Art Tatum is the greatest man that ever lived. He was God on the piano keys.
Did learning by Braille affect your music?
Yeah, it helped it. Because in Braille music, you can only read so many bars at a time. You can't play it and see it at the same time, so your memory and understanding expand.
Do you still love playing?
Oh, sure. Music is my life, my bloodstream, my breathing. I'm gonna make music until the good Lord says to me, "Ray, you've been a good horse. It's time to put you out to pasture."