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Ray Charles, Leader of Ray Charles Singers, Who Backed Perry Como, Dies at 96

Ray Charles, an American musician, songwriter, composer, conductor, arranger and leader of the Ray Charles Singers, died Monday at home in Beverly Hills. He was 96 (and was not the soul singer of the same name, who died in 2004).

An authority on American music, Charles served as a musical consultant to the Kennedy Center Honors for 31 years and for “The Muppet Show.”

As a singer, he is best known for the vocals, with Julia Rinker Miller, on the theme song for ABC comedy “Three’s Company.”

The Ray Charles Singers — named so by Perry Como, with whom Charles had a close association — recorded some 30 vocal albums and appeared on Como’s albums, TV series and specials over a period of more than three decades starting in 1959.

His film projects included “Funny Lady” and “Racing With the Moon”; much earlier, in 1947, he conducted the original cast album for the Broadway musical “Finian’s Rainbow” on Columbia Records.

Charles won Emmys two years running, in 1971 and 1972, for outstanding achievement in music, lyrics and special material, the first for “The First Nine Months Are the Hardest,” the second for an episode of “The Funny Side.” He was nominated five more times, including twice for musical direction of “The Kennedy Center Honors” and the final time, in 1993, for a special honoring Bob Hope’s 90th birthday.

Charles Raymond Offenberg was born in Chicago.

During WWII, he served in the Navy but was assigned to Hunter College, where he created a new music library for the Wave choruses and trained Wave choruses that sang on the radio, at bond rallies and at local veterans hospitals.

After the war he sang on radio, including on “Your Hit Parade,” before transitioning to early television.

Charles’ wife, Bernice, died in 2002, and a daughter, Wendy, died in 2004. He is survived by two sons, Michael, a film editor, and Jonathan, a music arranger; three granddaughters, Clover Hicks, Annalily Charles and Claire Acey, a band singer; and a grandson, Jonathan Kaufman.

 

 

 

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