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Music News: Ray Charles to Release New Album; Mary J. Blige Makes Off-Broadway Debut - 2004-02-21

R&B legend Ray Charles is working on a new album for Concord Records. The duets collection will feature collaborations with Norah Jones, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Michael McDonald and Bonnie Raitt. On March 2, Charles will perform his first concert since undergoing hip surgery. Last August, he was forced to cancel his remaining 2003 concert dates to undergo treatment for acute hip pain. He says, "I am absolutely thrilled at the prospect of going back to work. Music and performing are in my blood. I need them like oxygen."

Norah Jones' second album, Feels Like Home, sold more than one million copies its first week of release. It joins a list of nine albums that have had first-week sales reach the million mark. The Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync each have two albums in the list, which also includes Garth Brooks, Britney Spears, Eminem and Limp Bizkit.

This week, Mary J. Blige will make her theater debut in the off-Broadway production of The Exonerated. The show features a rotating cast and is based on the stories of death row inmates who were later found innocent and freed from jail. Blige's run will last from February 24-29.

Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Kid Rock and Joe Satriani are among the artists participating in a national tour that celebrates the legacy of Jimi Hendrix. The first show will take place on February 22 in Seattle, Washington. Also scheduled are performances in Portland, Oregon on February 24 and San Francisco, California on February 26. Organizers say more dates may be added. Also in the works is the Jimi Hendrix tribute album, Power of Soul, which is due out on May 4. Sting, Prince, Eric Clapton, and others will contribute newly recorded covers of Jimi's songs.



London-based rock band The Darkness led the winners at the February 17 Brit Music Awards, Britain's equivalent of the Grammy Awards. The group's three wins included Best British Group, Best British Rock Act and Best British Album for Permission To Land. Following close behind was pop star Justin Timberlake, who received the Best International Male Artist honor. He also won the Best International Album award for his solo debut, Justified. Dido also took home two awards. She won in the category of Best British Single for White Flag and was named Best British Female Artist. Other winners in the international categories included Beyonce, who earned this year's Brit Award for Best International Female Artist; the White Stripes, named Best International Group; and rapper 50 Cent, who received the award for Best International Breakthrough Artist.

Sarah McLachlan and Nelly Furtado lead the nominees for this year's Juno Awards, Canada's equivalent of the Grammy. Each earned five nominations, including Best Artist and Best Songwriter. The Junos will be handed out on April 4 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Nominations for the Billboard Latin Music Awards have been announced. The late "Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz received seven nods, including Top Latin Albums Artist and Top Female Artist. Colombian pop/rock star Juanes and Latin pop singer Ricky Martin earned five nominations apiece, and Thalia and newcomer Obie Bermudez are each up for four awards. The 2004 Billboard Latin Music Awards will take place in Miami, Florida on April 29.

22-year-old rhythm-and-blues star Beyonce continues her awards streak by leading the contenders for this year's Soul Train Music Awards. She picked up four nominations in the R&B, gospel and hip-hop fields. Luther Vandross is also a multiple nominee, with three mentions. The 18th annual honors will be handed out on March 20 in Los Angeles, California. Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and singer-pianist Alicia Keys will host the event.


February 24, American Idol alumni Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken will kick off a co-headlining tour in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 32-city outing is scheduled to end in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 16. Clarkson was the first-season winner of the televised talent competition "American Idol." Clay was the second season's runner-up. Both debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200 chart with their first albums. To date, Kelly's CD, Thankful, has sold two million copies in the U.S. Clay's debut, Measure Of A Man, has also been certified double platinum.