Ray Charles was a blind American musician who pioneered the soul music genre in the 1950s and was born on September 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia, to Aretha Williams and Bailey Robinson. His mother was a a sharecropper and his father was a labourer. Ray was interested in mechanics as a child, but his musical interest began when he was three years old and heard Wylie Pitman play boogie woogie on a piano. Pitman taught Ray to play, but by the age of 4 he was already losing his sight. Ray was blind from glaucoma when he was 7 years old. Ray attended the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida from 1937 to 1945. There he continued his musical education and learned Braille music as After the death of his mother at the age of 15, he began to dedicate himself to making music professionally.
After moving to Orlando, Charles lived in utter poverty and went without food for days, since that was an extremely difficult time for musicians to find work.
Ray Charles’ younger brother George drowned in the laundry tub when he was 4 years old.
Ray Charles Robinson dropped his last name to avoid confusion with the boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson.
While attending school in St. Augustine Florida, Ray learned to use Braille to read and write and compose music. He learned how to play the sax, trumpet, and clarinet while also furthering his talent on the piano and organ.
He was a favourite of former US President Richard Nixon.
Ray was talented at playing the blues, country, and gospel.
His compositions earned him the nicknames ‘The Genius’ and ‘The High Priest of Soul’.
At the age of 15 Ray Charles toured in the South on the ‘Chitlin Circuit’.
e was caught backstage with marijuana and drug paraphernalia and was arrested on charges of drug abuse in 1950.
At the age of 16 Ray Charles moved to Seattle where he met Quincy Jones, who became a lifelong friend and collaborator.
He was arrested again on a narcotics charge while he was waiting in his hotel room, just before a performance.
Ray’s early major influences included Nat King Cole and Charles Brown.
Ray Charles spent a year in jail. After his release, he released ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’ to protest his conviction.
In 1949 Ray Charles released ‘Confession Blues’ which was his first single. It did well on the R&B charts and he followed with ‘Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Kissa Me Baby’.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 10 on their list of ‘100 Greatest Artists of All Time’ and number two on the list of ‘100 Greatest Singers of All Time’.
Ray Charles signed a deal with Atlantic Records in 1953 and his first R&B hit with the label was ‘Mess Around’.
‘Georgia On My Mind’, ‘I Got A Woman’, ‘Unchain My Heart’ and ‘Hit the Road Jack’ are some of the greatest hits of Ray Charles.
In 1954 Ray Charles’ song “I Got a Woman’ reached number 1 and his music style became known as soul.
Ray Charles soon earned the nickname ‘The Genius’ for his ability to blend multiple styles. He was also known as the ‘Father of Soul’.
Ray Charles won a Grammy Award in 1960 for the song ‘Georgia on My Mind’. He also won a Grammy for ‘Hit the Road Jack’.
Throughout his career into the mid-1960s Ray Charles battled an addiction to heroin, but he managed to kick the habit at a clinic in L.A.
Ray’s career continued but his successes were not as many in his later career, however he maintained a high level of respect throughout.
Ray Charles underwent hip replacement surgery in 2003 which was successful. He planned to tour again but began to experience other illnesses and had to cancel.
Ray Charles died on June 10th, 2004, at 73 years of age.
Ray’s final album was released two months after he died, titled ‘Genius Loves Company’.
Ray Charles had 12 children and was married twice.
Ray Charles was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2015.