Robinson was born Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. Ray later quit
using his last name because there was already a famous Ray Robinson,
the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Ray's father, Bailey Robinson, was
a mechanic and a handyman, and his mother, Aretha, stacked boards
in a sawmill. His family moved to Gainesville, Fla., when Charles
was an infant.
Ray Charles endured
many challenges in his youth. Like many families during the depression,
his family struggled with poverty. His younger brother drowned
when Charles was 5 and by age 7 little Ray Charles had lost his
sight. It has been speculated that it was as a result of glaucoma
but at the time there wasn't any specific diagnosis.
Ray Charles was sent
away to the state-supported St. Augustine School for the Deaf
and the Blind, where he learned to read and write music in Braille.
Blind kids study by reading the music with their fingers. Charles
would read three or four bars of music with his fingers, and then
play it. Unlike those with sight, a blind person can't just sit
there and play as they read the music. First they must learn the
bars of music, practice it, and then play it and memorize it.
Charles wasn't able
to get into piano class at first because it was full. Charles
admired Clarinet player Artie Shaw so the first instrument he
learned how to play was the clarinet. Later he was able to get
into the piano class and he also learned how to play alto sax,
trumpet and organ.
When he was 15 his
mother died and he left St. Augustine to pursue his musical destiny.
Charles played at black dance halls around Florida, nearly starving
at times. In 1948 he wanted to move to a new place as far away
from Florida as he could. Charles ended up in Seattle where he
met a young Quincy Jones and formed a lifelong friendship. Charles
played a major role in the Jones 1985 recording of USA for Africa's
"We Are the World."
Early on Charle's style
was influenced by Nat "King" Cole. Charles had a major
R&B hit in 1949 with "Confession Blues" on the Downbeat
(later Swing Time) label. During this early time he developed
a dependency on heroin which continued until he stopped cold turkey
in 1965. Charles has seldom talked about his heroin addiction,
instead wanting the public to focus on his music.
Over the years Ray
Charles developed his own unique sound, a blend of blues, R&B
and gospel. Charle's musical genius was noticed early and he had
several record company contracts and played at the Apollo, Carnegie
Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.
In the 1960's Charles
started appearing in films and recorded soundtracks such as The
Cincinnati Kid (1965) and In the Heat of the Night (1967). Charles
also performed at nightclubs during this time.
In 1978 Dial Press
published his autobiography, "Brother Ray." In his autobiography
Ray Charles stated, "I was born with music inside me. That's
the only explanation I know of... Music was one of my parts ...
like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on
the scene. It was a necessity for me, like food or water."
In 1980 Charles appeared
in The Blues Brothers movie and scored a minor country hit for
his duet with Clint Eastwood, "Beers to You," from the
film Any Which Way You Can. Clint Eastwood has been a long admirer
of Ray Charles and developed a close friendship with him. It was
Eastwood who presented Charles with his last award in 2004, when
Charles' recording studios were designated an official city historic
1n 1989 Charles had
his first major pop hit in over twenty years with with "I'll
Be Good to You," featuring himself and Chaka Khan. In the
'90s Charles appeared in commercials for Pepsi and was the subject
of a PBS documentary.
Charles won nine of
his 12 Grammy Awards, winning his last Grammy in 1993 for Best
R&B Male Vocal Performance, "A Song For You."
Being born into the
segregated south in 1930 Charles was aware of the evil of racial
injustice. Ray Charles knew that since he wasn't able to know
when to duck when bottles would be thrown at his head, that it
was better for him to help raise money to fight racial injustice.
Charles did this for Martin Luther King Jr. and other groups around
Commenting on being
black and blind Charles said, "I knew being blind was suddenly
an aid. I never learned to stop at the skin. If I looked at a
man or a woman, I wanted to see inside. Being distracted by shading
or coloring is stupid. It gets in the way. It's something I just
One of Charles' most
treasured awards is the 1976 "Man of the Year" Award
from Beverly Hills Lodge of B'nai Brith. Charles said, "If
someone besides a black ever sings the real gut bucket blues,
it'll be a Jew. We both know what it's like to be someone else's
On a personal note,
Charles was legendary ladie's man and has 12 children and 20 grandchildren.
The last public appearance
by Ray Charles was April 39, 2004 alongside Clint Eastwood and
Cicely Tyson at his beloved Central Los Angeles recording studios.
The city of Los Angeles honored music legend Ray Charles, by designatng
his Edifice Complex an official city historic landmark. The Grammy
winner's recording studios, were built 40 years ago in Central
Los Angeles. The building, located at 2107 W. Washington Blvd,
has served as his office and studio since being built in 1962.
The Ray Charles Story,
will be released in October 2004, starring Jamie Fox as the musical
• 1960 Best Vocal
Performance Single Record or Track, Male, "Georgia On My
• 1960 Best Performance
by a Pop Single Artist, "Georgia On My Mind"
• 1960 Best Rhythm
& Blues Performance, "Let The Good Times Roll"
• 1960 Best Vocal
Performance Album, Male, "The Genius Of Ray Charles"
• 1961 Best Rhythm
and Blues Recording, "Hit The Road Jack"
• 1962 Best Rhythm
and Blues Recording, "I Can't Stop Loving You"
• 1963 Best Rhythm
and Blues Recording, "Busted"
• 1966 Best Rhythm
and Blues Recording, "Crying Time"
• 1966 Best R&B
Solo Vocal Performance, "Crying Time"
• 1975 Best R&B
Vocal Performance, Male, "Living For The City"
• 1990 Best R&B
Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal, "I'll Be Good To
You" (with Chaka Khan)
• 1993 Best R&B
Vocal Performance, Male, "A Song For You"
Awards & Achievements
• 1968 Inducted into
the Playboy Magazine Hall of Fame.
• 1975 Received the
first "Man of Distinction" Award from The National Association
for Sickle Cell Disease.
• 1975 Received The
Golden Plate Award by the American Academy of Achievement.
• 1976 Inducted into
the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.
• 1976 Honored as
"Man of the Year" Award by Beverly Hills Lodge of B'nai
• 1979 First performer
to be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
• 1979 Ray Charles'
rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" was approved as the
official Song of the State of Georgia.
• 1981 Received a
Star on Hollywood Boulevard's "Walk of Fame."
• 1982 Inducted into
the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame.
• 1983 Received the
"Hall of Fame Award" by the NAACP's Image Awards.
• 1983 Awarded the
Best R&B Male Vocalist by the televised NAACP Awards.
• 1986 One of the original
inductees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
• 1986 Honored by the
French government by being made a Commander of Fine Arts and Letters.
• 1986 Recipient of
the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievements.
• 1989 Received the
Japanese equivalent of a Gold Record for his #1 single, "Ellie
• 1990 Received an
Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of South Florida
• 1990 Received the
Clio Award as Best Male Performer (in commercials).
• 1992 Inducted into
the Florida Artists Hall of Fame (Charles was born in Georgia
but raised in Florida).
• 1992 Recognized as
a Black History Month honoree, and presented with Los Angeles
County's Distinguished Service Medal.
• 1993 Presented the
National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton.
• 1994 Received a Lifetime
Achievement Award as part of the Black Achievement Awards television
• 1994 Received the
Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation
for the Blind.
• 1995 Received the
Governor's Performing Arts Award.
• 1995 Received the
Horatio Alger Award.
• 1996 Received an
Honorary Doctorate Degree in Performing Arts from Occidental College.
• 2004 Received a Hall
of Fame award presented by Quincy Jones at the NAACP Image Awards.
• Ray Charles
is the Honorary Life Chairman of the Rhythm & Blues Hall of
Fame. A bronze bust of Ray Charles is enshrined at the Playboy
Hall of Fame and there is a bronze medallion cast and presented
to Charles by the French Republic on behalf of its people.