Ray Charles Robinson
(September 23, 1930 â€“ June
10, 2004), known by his stage name
, was an American musician. Charles was
a pioneer in the genre of soul music
during the 1950s by fusing rhythm
, and blues
styles into his early recordings for Atlantic Records
. He also helped
during the 1960s with his
success on ABC Records
, most notably with his Modern
albums. During his tenure with ABC, Charles became
one of the first African-American
musicians to receive and practice artistic control bestowed upon by
a mainstream record company.
In 2004, Rolling Stone
Charles number ten on their list of "The 100 Greatest Artists of
All Time", and voted him number two on their November
2008 list of "The 100 Greatest Singers of
Charles was the son of Aretha Williams, a share cropper
, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad
repair man, mechanic and handyman. Williams was very religious and
the family attended the New Shiloh Baptist Church. When Ray was an infant
the family moved from his native Albany, Georgia to the poor black community of Jellyroll on the
western side of Greenville, Florida.
In his early years, Charles showed a curiosity for mechanical
things and he often watched the neighborhood men working on their
cars and farm machinery. His musical curiosity was sparked at Mr.
Wiley Pit's Red Wing Cafe when Pit played boogie woogie
on an old upright piano
. Pit would care for George,
Ray's younger brother, to take the burden off Williams. Tragically,
George drowned in Williams' wash tub at age four.
Charles started to lose his sight at the age of five. He went
completely blind by the age of seven. Though there are sources that
suggest his blindness was due to glaucoma
most sources suggest that Ray began to lose his sight from an
infection caused by soapy water to his eyes which was left
untreated. He attended school at the Florida School for the
Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida from 1937 to 1945, where he developed his
His father died when he was ten, followed by
his mother five years later.
In school, Charles was taught only classical music, but he really
wanted to play the jazz and blues that he heard on the radio. While
at school, he became the school's premier musician. On Fridays, the
South Campus Literary Society held assemblies where Charles would
play piano and sing popular songs. On Halloween and Washington's
birthday, the Colored Department of the school had socials where
Charles would play. It was here he established "RC Robinson and the
Shop Boys" and sang his own arrangement of Jingle Bell
. He spent his first Christmas at the school, but later
the staff pitched in so that Charles could return to Greenville, as
he did each summer.
Alice Johnson, who owned a store not unlike Mr. Pit's store in
Greenville, moved to the Frenchtown section of Tallahassee just west of Greenville, and they, as well as
Freddy and Margaret Bryant, took Charles in.
He worked the
register in the Bryants' store under the direction of Lucille
Bryant, their daughter. It's said he loved Tallahassee and often
used the drug store delivery boy's motorbike to run up and down
hills using the exhaust sound of a friend's bike to guide him.
found Tallahassee musically exciting too and sat in with the
University student band.
He played with the Adderley
, and began playing gigs with
Lawyer Smith and his Band in 1943
at the Red
Bird Club and DeLuxe Clubs in Frenchtown and roadhouses
around Tallahassee, as well as the
After his mother died in 1945, Charles did not return to school.
in Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his
For over a year, he played the piano for bands at
the Ritz Theatre
, earning $4 a
night. Then he moved to Orlando, and later
Tampa, where he played with a southern band called The Florida Playboys.
This is where he began his habit of always wearing sunglasses that
were made by designer Billy Stickles.
Charles had always played for other people, but he wanted a band
that was his own. He decided to leave Florida for a large city,
but Chicago and New York City were too big. He moved to Seattle in 1947 and soon started recording, first for the
Down Beat label as the Maxin Trio with guitarist G.D.
and bassist Milton Garrett, achieving his first hit with
"Confession Blues" in 1949. The song soared to #2 on the R&B
charts. He joined Swing Time
and under his own name ("Ray Charles" to avoid being
confused with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson
)recorded two more
R&B hits, "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" (#5) in 1951 and "Kissa
Me Baby" (#8) in 1952. The following year, Ahmet ErtegÃ¼n
signed him to Atlantic Records
Breakthrough period with Atlantic Records
Almost immediately after signing with Atlantic, Charles scored his
first hit singles. "It Should
Have Been Me
" and "Don't You Know" both made the charts in
1954, but it was "I Got A Woman
(composed with band mate Renald Richard) that brought him to
The song reached the top of Billboard
R&B singles chart in 1955 and from there until 1959 he would
have a series of R&B successes including "A Fool For You" (#1),
This Little Girl of Mine
", "Mary Ann", "Drown in My Own Tears
" (#1) and the #5
hit "The Night Time
which were compiled on his Atlantic releases Hallelujah, I Love
, Yes Indeed!
and The Genius Sings the
. Charles was often cited for "using his voice like a
", most notably by the prominent
critic Victor Bollo
During this time of transition, he recruited a young girl group
from Philadelphia, The Cookies
, as his
background singing group, recording with them in New York and
changing their name to the Raelettes
In 1959, Charles crossed over to Top 30 radio with the release of
his impromptu blues
number, "What'd I Say
", which was initially
conceived while Charles was in concert. The song reached number 1
on the R&B list and would become Charles's first top-ten single
on the pop charts, peaking at number 6. Charles would also record
The Genius of Ray
, before leaving Atlantic for a more lucrative deal
with ABC Records
Hit songs such as "Georgia On My
" (US #1 Pop, #3 R&B), "Hit the Road Jack
" (US #1 Pop and
R&B), "One Mint Julep (#8 Pop, #1 R&B) and "Unchain My Heart
" (#9 Pop, #1
R&B) helped his transition to pop success, and his landmark
1962 album, Modern Sounds in
Country and Western Music
and its sequel Modern
Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2
helped to bring country
mainstream of music. His version of the Don Gibson song, "I Can't Stop Loving You
" topped the
Pop chart for five weeks and stayed at #1 R&B for ten weeks in
1962. It also gave him his only number one record in the UK. He
also had major pop hits in 1963 with "Busted
" (US #4) and "Take These
Chains From My Heart" (US #8), and also scored a Top 20 hit four
years later, in 1967, with "Here We Go Again" (US #15) (which would
later be duetted with Norah Jones
In 1965, Charles was arrested for possession of heroin
, a drug to which he had been addicted for
nearly 20 years. It was his third arrest for the offense, but
he avoided jail time after kicking the habit in
a clinic in Los Angeles.
He spent a year on parole
in 1966, when his single "Crying Time
" reached #6 on the charts.
During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Charles's releases were
hit-or-miss, with some big hits and critically acclaimed work. His
version of "Georgia On My Mind
was proclaimed the state song
on April 24, 1979, and he performed it on the floor of the state legislature
. He also had
success with his unique version of "America the Beautiful
In November 1977 he appeared as the host of NBC's Saturday Night Live
. In the 1980s a
number of other events increased Charles's recognition among young
audiences. He made a cameo appearance in the popular 1980 film
. In 1985, "The Right Time" was featured in the
episode "Happy Anniversary" of The
. The next year in
1986, he sang America The
at Wrestlemania 2
. In a
Pepsi Cola commercial of the early 1990s, Charles popularized the
"You Got the Right One, Baby
and he was featured in the recording of "We Are the World
" for USA for Africa
Despite his support of Martin
Luther King, Jr.
in the 1960s and his support for the American Civil Rights
, Charles courted controversy when he toured South Africa
in 1981, during an international
boycott of the country because of its apartheid
In 1989, Charles recorded a cover version of the Japanese band
Southern All Stars
' song "Itoshi
no Ellie" as "Ellie My Love" for a Suntory
TV advertisement, reaching #3 on Japan's Oricon
chart. Eventually, it sold more than 400,000
copies, and became that year's best-selling single performed by a
Western artist for the Japanese music market.
Charles has also appeared at two Presidential inaugurations in his
lifetime. In 1985, he performed for Ronald Reagan's second
inauguration, and in 1993 performed for Bill Clinton's first
In the late '80s and early '90s, Charles made appearances on
The Super Dave Osbourne Show
where he performed and appeared in a few vignettes where he was
somehow driving a car, often as Super Dave's chauffeur. At the
height of his newfound fame in the early nineties, Charles did
for quite a few projects. He
also appeared (with Chaka Khan
) on long
time friend Quincy Jones
' hit "I'll Be Good to You
" in 1990, from
Jones's album Back on the
Following Jim Henson
's death in 1990, Ray
Charles appeared in the one-hour CBS tribute, The Muppets
Celebrate Jim Henson
. He gave a short speech about the
deceased, stating that Henson "took a simple song and a piece of
felt and turned it into a moment of great power". Charles was
referring to the song "It's Not Easy Being Green", which Charles
later performed with the rest of the Muppet cast in a tribute to
During the sixth season of Designing
, Ray Charles vocally performed "Georgia On My Mind
", rather than the song
being rendered by other musicians without lyrics as in the previous
five seasons. He also appeared in 4 episodes of the popular TV
comedy The Nanny
in Seasons 4
& 5 (1997 & 1998) as 'Sammy', in one episode singing "My
Yiddish Mamma" to December romance and later fiancee of character
Gramma Yetta, played by veteran actress Ann
In 2000, Charles made a special guest appearance on Blue's Clues
Big Musical Movie as a fictional
character named G-Clef. The
also made a guest appearance as his companions.
Charles recorded "There It Is" during and after filming with
and Traci Paige Johnson
. After recording,
Charles commented "This has been the most fun I have had since I
met President Reagan
In 2001 Charles played a memorable show in front of a sold out
Teatro Teresa CarreÃ±o in Caracas, Venezuela.
Charles headlined during the Blues Passions Cognac festival in
Charles, along with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall, paid a
visit to Salt Lake City Tuesday night on Oct. 15. 2002 and played a
benefit concert for the Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield 10th Annual
Caring Foundation for Children Gala.
he took part with other musicians in a peace concert in Rome, which was
the first event to take place inside the cityâ€™s ancient Colosseum since A.D.
404. The event was organized in
partnership with the Glocal Forum and the Quincy Jones Listen Up
Foundation. Charles appeared with Travis
on CMT Crossroads
in December of that year.
In 2003, Ray Charles headlined the White House Correspondents
Dinner in Washington, DC, at which President and Mrs. Bush, Colin
Powell and Condoleezza Rice were in attendance. He also presented
one of his greatest admirers, Van
, with his award upon being inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame
two sang Morrison's song from the Moondance
album, "Crazy Love
". This performance
is captured on Morrison's 2007 album, The Best of Van Morrison
On Friday, April 11, 2003, Ray Charles sang 'America The Beautiful'
at Fenway Park in Boston, Friday, prior to the rained out Red Sox
home opener against the Baltimore Orioles.
Charles performed "Georgia On My Mind" and "America the Beautiful"
at a televised annual electronic media journalist banquet held in
D.C., at what may have been his final performance in
His final public appearance came on April 30
, at the
dedication of his music studio
as a historic landmark
city of Los Angeles.
on June 10, 2004 at 11:35 a.m. of liver cancer at his home in
Hills, California, surrounded by family and friends.
was interred in the Inglewood
Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.
After the funeral, a BBC spokesman commented: "it did not go
unnoticed that Susaye
former member of the Raelettes
as well as
of the Supremes
, and currently a solo artist] was the
only Raelette to sing at Ray's funeral."
His final album, Genius Loves
, released two months after his death, consists of
duets with various admirers and contemporaries: B.B. King
, Van Morrison
, James Taylor
, Gladys Knight
, Michael McDonald
, Natalie Cole
, Bonnie Raitt
, Diana Krall
, and Johnny Mathis
album won eight Grammy Awards
including five for Ray Charles for Best Pop Vocal Album, Album of
the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals
for "Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones
and Best Gospel Performance for "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight
; he also received nods for his
duets with Elton John and B.B. King.
The album included a version of Harold
's "Over the Rainbow
sung as a duet by Charles and Johnny
, which recording was later played at his memorial
Two more posthumous albums, Genius & Friends
Ray Sings, Basie
(2006), were released. Genius & Friends
duets recorded from 1997 to 2005 with his choice of artists.
Ray Sings, Basie Swings
consists of archived vocals of Ray
Charles from live mid-1970s performances added to new instrumental
tracks specially recorded by the contemporary Count Basie Orchestra
musicians. Charles's vocals recorded from the concert mixing board
were added to new accompaniments to create a "fantasy concert"
recording. Gregg Field, who had performed as a drummer with both
Charles and Basie, produced the album.
Charles was married twice and fathered 12 children by nine
different women. His first marriage to Eileen Williams was brief:
July 31, 1951 to 1952. He had three children from his second
marriage, to Della Beatrice Howard Robinson from April 5, 1955 to
1977. His long term girlfriend and partner at the time of his death
was Norma Pinella.
- Born ~ 1950: Evelyn Robinson (to Louise Mitchell)
- Born ~ 1955: Ray Charles Robinson, Jr. (to Della Robinson)
- Born ~ 1958: David Robinson (to Della Robinson)
- Born ~ 1959: Charles Wayne Hendricks (to Margie Hendricks)
- Born ~ 1960: Reverend Robert Robinson (to Della Robinson)
- Born ~ 1961: Raenee Robinson (to Mae Mosely Lyles)
- Born ~ 1963: Sheila Raye Charles Robinson (to Sandra Jean
- Born ~ 196?: Reatha Butler (unknown)
- Born ~ 196?: Alexandria Bertrand (to Chantelle Bertrand)
- Born ~ 1977: Vincent Kotchounian (to Arlette Kotchounian)
- Born ~ 1978: Robyn Moffett (to Gloria Moffett)
- Born ~ 1987: Ryan Corey Robinson den Bok (to Mary Anne den
Charles gave each of his children one million dollars tax free in
December 2002 at a family lunch. Ten of his 12 children were given
a check for $1,000,000 at the luncheon, while two couldn't make it.
- See Ray Charles
Charles was significantly involved in the biopic Ray
, an October 2004
which portrays his life and career between 1930 and 1966
and stars Jamie Foxx
as Charles. Foxx won
the 2005 Academy Award
for the role.
Before shooting could begin, director Taylor Hackford
brought Foxx to meet
Charles, who insisted that they sit down at two pianos and play
together. After two hours, he stood up, hugged Foxx, and gave his
blessing, proclaiming, "He's the one... he can do it."
Charles was expected to attend a showing of the completed film, but
died before it opened. The movie is the all-time number one biopic
per screen average, opening on 2006 screens and making 20 million
As noted in the film's final credits, Ray
is based on true
events, but includes some characters, names, locations, events
which have been changed and others which have been "fictionalized
for dramatization purposes." One example of the film's use of dramatic license are the scenes which refer
to Charles as being temporarily banned from performing in Georgia.
The film's credits note that he is survived by 12 children, 21
grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren as of the movie release in
Hall of Fame and other honors
Statue in Ray Charles Plaza in Albany,
Besides winning 17 Grammy Awards in his career (including five
posthumously), Charles was also honored in many other ways. In
1979, he was one of the first honorees of the Georgia State Music
Hall of Fame being recognized for being a musician born in the
state. Ray's version of "Georgia On My Mind" was made into the
official state song for Georgia. In 1981, he was given a star on the
Walk of Fame and was one of the first inductees to the Rock &
Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural ceremony in 1986.
received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986. In 1987, he was awarded
the Grammy Lifetime
. In 1991, he was inducted to the Rhythm &
Blues Foundation. In 1998 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize
together with Ravi Shankar
in Stockholm, Sweden.In 2004 he
was inducted to the Jazz Hall of
, and inducted to the National Black Sports &
Entertainment Hall of Fame. Also in 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine
ranked him #10
on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time
The Grammy Awards of 2005
dedicated to Charles.
December 7, 2007, Ray Charles Plaza was opened in Albany,
Georgia, with a revolving, lighted bronze sculpture of Charles seated at a
On December 26, 2007, Ray Charles was inducted into the Hit Parade
Hall of Fame. He was also presented with the George and
Ira Gershwin Award
for Lifetime Musical Achievement, during the
1991 UCLA Spring Sing
Ray Charles Post Office Building
On Tuesday, July 12, 2005, President George Bush signed into law a
bill (PL 109-25), sponsored by Congresswoman Diane E. Watson
(CA-33rd), designating the U.S. postal facility located at 4960 W.
Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles, California, as the Ray Charles
Post Office Building. On August 24, 2005, the United States Congress
Charles by dedicating and renaming the former West Adams
office in Los Angeles the "Ray Charles Station".
- Unterberger, Richie. Biography: Ray Charles. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2009-11-26.
- Guide Profile: Ray Charles. About.com. Retrieved on
- Soul Survivor Ray Charles. Rolling Stone.
Retrieved on 2008-11-09.
- Tyrangiel, Josh. Review: Modern Sounds in Country and Western
Music. Time. Retrieved on 2009-07-21.
- VH1 (2003), p. 210.
- Lydon, Michael, Ray Charles: Man and Music, Routledge, ISBN
0-415-97043-1, Routledge Publishing, January 22, 2004.
- BohÃ¨me Magazine Obituary: Ray Charles
(1930 â€“ 2004).
- "The Genius Of Ray Charles", an article about
an 1986 segment on Charles from 60 Minutes.
- Lydon, Michael: Ray Charles, pp. 29-38.
- Lydon, Michael, p. 19.
- Lydon, Michael, p. 20.
- Blacknetwork.com Ray Charles on Ray.
- SNL Transcripts: Ray Charles: 11/12/77.
- List of best-selling international singles in Japan of
1989, Extract from the Year-End chart posted by oricon.
- Internet Movie Database Bio on Ray Charles.
- The Genius Of Ray Charles, 60 Minutes Looks Back At
The Life And Loves Of A True Original - CBS News.