Ray Charles


Ray Charles 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 landmark.

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 the world.

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 can't see."

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 footstool."

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 legend.

Grammy Awards

• 1960 Best Vocal Performance Single Record or Track, Male, "Georgia On My Mind"

• 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 Brith.

• 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 My Love."

• 1990 Received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

• 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 show.

• 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.

Ray Charles Autobiography

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