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After false reports circulated yesterday, Country Music Hall of Fame member Ray Price died today (Monday, Dec. 16) at home in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, following a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. Radio veteran and family friend Bill Mack relayed the news on Facebook . The artist behind a long string of hits, including “Crazy Arms,” “For the Good Times,” “Heartaches by the Number” and more, Ray is widely regarded as one of country music’s key innovators and is credited with helping develop important stylistic changes in the genre. He was 87.
Noble Ray Price was born near Perryville, Texas, but raised in Dallas as well as on his father’s farm. He served in the Marines during World War II and enrolled at North Texas Agricultural College with plans to study veterinary medicine. His musical career began when he started singing at a local cafe, eventually recording an unsuccessful single for Nashville’s Bullet Records.
Later on, he caught the attention of Columbia Records, who released his first single, the Lefty Frizzell-penned “If You're Ever Lonely, Darling.” He joined Hank Williams on the road and the pair wrote “Weary Blues (From Waiting),” which became a minor hit for Ray. He left Texas for Nashville to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1952.
Ray's career took off with the release of “Crazy Arms” in 1956, which spent 20 weeks at No. 1 and updated the honky-tonk sound of his forbears with a modern touch that proved highly influential. The song’s new shuffle became known as the “Ray Price beat.”
By the 1960s, Ray began to add more pop instrumentation to his sound, exemplified by his 1967 hit “Danny Boy.” The song’s orchestration put off some of his early fans, but welcomed even more new ones. Most seemed united, however, on the 1970 No. 1 “For the Good Times,” which went on to earn Ray the Academy of Country Music’s Single and Album of the Year honors.
Ray returned to Texas in the mid-1970s, releasing albums sporadically through different labels, with none of them matching his previous success.
He continued recording and touring through recent years. A 2007 album, Last of the Breed, made with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, won a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
In late 2012, Ray revealed that he was receiving chemotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer. In February 2013, Ray reported to his fans that the treatments had been successful and his cancer was in remission, but he was hospitalized multiple times before the end of 2013 with an assortment of health issues. Last week, he and his wife, Janie, elected to put Ray in hospice care and forgo any further treatment.
There is a new album of Ray’s music planned for release in 2014, as well as at least one tribute show in Nashville in February.