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One of my heroes passed away a while back after a long and courageous battle with a cruel illness that was beyond his ability to control. He was a giant in his chosen profession—a “great communicator,” many have said. He gained this reputation by always communicating with a sincerity and heartfelt honesty that moved his audiences emotionally and inspired a loyalty almost unequalled in his field. It was this sincerity that was the heart and soul of his success in life and that allowed him to accomplish so many goals that might have seemed unreachable to a small-town boy who grew up in poverty, with only a strong faith in God as his guiding light.

This hero of mine was an unassuming and gentle fellow, whose outgoing personality, innate talent and stage presence eventually gained him worldwide adoration, and allowed him to influence many others who would build on the foundations he laid. Indeed, his influences are still evident today in the skills of those who learned from him and employed his innovations—innovations that shaped, and will continue to shape, the skills and talents of generations to come.

And that, I believe, should be his legacy: that he contributed greatly to creative and innovative changes in his chosen field, bringing a sense of emotion and hope to millions of average Americans and thousands of aspiring followers. He showed us all that faith, coupled with perseverance and infused with emotional sincerity, can lead even those born without privilege to overcome adversity, to accomplish great things, and to change the landscape of the future.

On a more personal note, this hero of mine awakened my soul and gave me the courage to sing from my heart. He taught me the value and power of sincere emotional empathy and showed me that talent alone was not enough—that just mouthing words with practiced clarity could never touch the soul of the masses, as he did like none before him.

One of my heroes passed away a while back. And no, he wasn’t that famous politician you’re probably thinking about.

His name was Ray Charles.

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