Share photos of famous musicians or enlist your favorite songs.

Biography of Ray Charles

Biography of Ray Charles

From the streets of Greenville to a statue in Albany, Georgia; Ray Charles made his mark throughout his life and did not cease to do so even after he left the World of Soul Music with a grieving loss...
Nilesh Parekh
Even though he was blind, Ray could ride a motorcycle,
drive a car, fly a plane, play a piano, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and an organ too!!

"I don't think any of us really KNOWS why we're here. But I think we're suppose to BELIEVE we're here for a purpose." - Ray Charles
ray charles
Ray Charles, accompanied by Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan
Image Credit: The Reagan Library Archives/via Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Birth Name Ray Charles Robinson
Stage Name Ray Charles
DoB 23rd September, 1930
Home Town Albany, Georgia
Death June 10, 2004 (aged 73), in Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Profession Singer, Musician, Songwriter, Composer.
Instruments Alto Saxophone, Trombone.
Associated Bands The Florida Playboys, The McSon Trio, The Raelettes.
Childhood (1930 - 45)
Sweet And Sour Tears
Ray Charles was born to a mother who would never let the world treat her son any differently than the others. Born in Georgia, his family moved to Florida when he was still a child. His father was a ghost figure, who abandoned his mother, Aretha, soon after moving to Greenville, Florida. But this marked just the beginning of the tragedies in the life of this legend. He was haunted all his life by the trauma of his brother's death. When they were little, the Charles brothers were playing near the huge steel tub that their mother used for washing clothes. However, Ray's brother George, fell inside the tub and drowned to death. In his biography, Ray talks about how this incident haunted him for most of his life.

Ray was diagnosed with glaucoma at the tender age of five. His vision slowly started failing and by the time he turned seven, he had lost his eyesight completely. His mother would still send him to do household chores. She made him strong. He attended the "St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind" in St. Augustine. He developed his music skills there, and he learned how to arrange music in Braille. He also studied mathematics, typing and basket-weaving. His studies in mathematics helped him to learn to compose music in his head and he quickly began to learn to play by ear. His mother inspired music within him, but he lost her to fate when he was just 15.
Early Years (1945 - 52)
Hit The Road, Jack 
Bereaved, Charles quit school and shifted to Jacksonville for a year before he joined The Florida Playboys, a country band from down south. He decided to move to Seattle in 1947. He decided so because Seattle was the U.S. City farthest from Florida. He left for Seattle with Gosady McGee, and started playing in Seattle. He fraternized with Quincy Jones there, forming a lasting bond with him. A talent contest found them a regular gig working at a bar called The Elks Club. He with guitarist McGee and Milt Jarret formed the McSon trio, "Mc" from McGee and "Son" from Robinson. The McSon Trio used to work as the house band for The Rocking Chair,a venue that doubled as a gambling house and music club, when Jack Lauderdale of Swingtime Records came in one night. Impressed with the band's sound, he offered them a recording contract and the trio quickly moved to Los Angeles. McSon Trios first release, "Baby Let Me Hold You Tonight" (1950) was a big hit amongst the black community. The McSon Trio even found themselves with a fully-sponsored television show in 1948, the first black performers in the Northwest to do so.
The Climb of Glory (1952 - 64)
The Genius Hits The Road
Charles recorded very little until 1952, when Atlantic Records bought his contract from Swingtime, impressed by his recordings with artists like Guitar Slim and Ruth Brown. His first Atlantic label was "It Should Have Been Me". But it was the 1954 release of "I Got a Woman" that placed him at the top. Combining the music of Blues with Gospel, it became the first song ever to be termed "Soul" music and climbed to the No. 1 position on the R&B charts. It was also the first of a long list of hits that Ray gave under the Atlantic label, followed by works such as "Drown In My Own Tears," "Lonely Avenue," "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and "A Fool For You." He gave a lot of hits under their label, but he found little growth as R&B was Atlantic's major need. By the end of 1959, Charles signed over to ABC-Paramount Records. He gave a lot of hit Singles including "Georgia on My Mind" and "Unchain My Heart".

Ray released three "Genius" albums, each fetching him a Grammy. In all he won four Grammy Awards in 1961 alone. He renewed his contract with ABC for a higher annual fee and increased royalties. He further expanded his role in popular music by establishing Ray Charles Enterprises in 1962, opening offices and a studio in downtown Los Angeles. He surprised everybody by releasing the album "Modern Sounds In Country And Western Vol. 1". The release crossed even more boundaries, producing three hit singles with "I Can't Stop Loving You", "Born To Lose" and "You Don't Know Me". "I Can't Stop Loving You" won the Grammy Award in 1963 for Song of the Year. The companion album, "Modern Sounds In Country And Western Vol. 2" came out a year later and also produced three more hits, "You Are My Sunshine", "Take These Chains From My Heart" and "Your Cheating Heart."
Married Life & Womanizing Habits
I Got a Woman
Ray Charles was famous for being a womanizer. With two wives and a total of twelve children from nine different women to his name, Ray was not a success in his personal life. His first marriage, to Eileen Williams, lasted for about a year. His second marriage, to back up singer Della Beatrice Howard Robinson, lasted 22 years. But Charles was not faithful to either. He was well-known for his philandering. Quincy Jones says that Ray was never more blind than when he was around women. He would bump into walls and pretend to be helpless when around them. In his biography, "Brother Ray", Charles blames himself and his drug addiction for his unsuccessful marriages. He goes on to explain why he would not marry again.
"To me marriage seems to mean possession and ownership of human beings
as though they are television sets. And I really don't want to be owned." - Ray Charles

However, the woman who ruled his heart was his mother whose death left a very saddening impression on his heart. He would reminiscence and describe her vividly.
Hometown Controversy (1962 - 79)
Georgia on My Mind 
Ray Charles, born in Georgia held the state in a different place in his heart. After the release of his version of the song "Georgia On My Mind," originally written by Hoagy Carmichael, for the State of Georgia, the song rose to the number one position in charts. Only a few days after its release, Ray was scheduled to perform in Augusta, Georgia. He canceled his performance and left the city as soon as he learned that blacks were not allowed inside the dance auditorium, but not before he made it public knowledge why he was leaving. He was fined heavily for breach of contract and was banned from performing again in the State Of Georgia. On June 14, 1962, Charles was fined $757 in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta, according to the biopic Ray (2004). However, in 1979, for mutual reconciliation, The State of Georgia declared Ray's version of the song as the "State Song of Georgia." Every night a video montage along with his version of the song was played on the Georgia Public Television, before 24 hour satellite television came into place. Also In 1979, Charles became one of the first to be recognized as a musician born in the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame.
Drug Addiction (1964 - 66)
Mess Around 
Charles started experimenting with drugs when he was playing with The Florida Playboys. He had two cases of arrest due to possession of drugs, before he went cold turkey, after the third arrest for possession of marijuana and heroin. This happened in 1964, and Ray took a break from his singing career for about a year. After a court mandated rehabilitation therapy, Ray pulled out of his drug addiction. A biopic on his life called "Ray" (2004), portrays him going through a lot of reconciliation and mental changes during his rehab period, before he left narcotics for good. While he was in the rehab, his song "Busted," with Gospel themed music, rose to popularity. When he finally returned to perform publicly after his rehabilitation period, Ray, cheekily, released songs such as "I Don't Need No Doctor" and "Let's Go Get Stoned." He would drink half a mug of black coffee with two sugars and "Bols" gin to keep himself off the drugs after he got clean, making it his signature cocktail.
Decline & Downfall (1966 - 85)
 I'm Movin' On
After his conflict with drug abuse, Ray changed a lot of labels and underwent a slow decline. Ray started working frequently with nightclubs and had started working in films too. He has acted in films like "Swinging Along," "Ballad In Blue" and "The Blues Brothers." He also composed music for "Cincinnati Kid", "In The Heat Of The Night" and "Any Which Way You Can". He would still come up with a chart topper once in a while, such as the Country album "Friendship". All the songs in his albums featured duet partners of the likes of Hank Williams Jr and Willie Nelson . In 1993, Ray was awarded his twelfth and final Grammy Award for "A Song For You". He played an important part in U.S.A. for the recording of "We Are The World" in 1985. He also became popular with the youth for his "You've got the right one, baby, uh-huh" campaign for Diet Pepsi in the early 1990s.
Late in Life (1985 - 2002)
Lonely Avenue 
During his latter years, Ray never stomped his musical love. Instead, he continued to make public appearance and held concerts across the globe. He made a lot of Television appearance too, including "The Super Dave Osbourne TV Show", "Designing Women" and "The Nanny". In 1993, he performed on Bill Clinton's first Presidential Inauguration. He performed his 10,000th concert on May 23, 2003 in Los Angeles. He made his last public appearance, with Clint Eastwood, on April 30, 2004, as the studios he opened in 1962 in Los Angeles were declared a historic landmark. Ray had to go under the knife for hip replacement surgery in December 2003. While undergoing this treatment, it was discovered that he was also suffering from acute liver disease.
Disheartening Demise (2004)
Unchain My Heart 
Ray never ceased working. He was constantly on tour till two years before his death. He also remained in the news for his hearty donations to educational institutions. He gave Wilberforce University in Ohio a two-million-dollar gift to fund music scholarships to students in 2000. In 2001 he donated to the all-black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, a million dollars. In the year 2004, a biopic on his life named "Unchain My Heart" was being made. The screenplay was translated into Braille for Charles to be able to read it. However, Charles passed away on the 10th of June, due to acute liver failure at his apartment in Beverly Hills. A National Day of Mourning along with a horse-drawn cortege through the streets of the USA's capitol, marked the death of this legend. "Genius Loves Company," his last album was released two months after his death. His biopic name was also changed to Ray and was released in October that year. It was screened at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival for the first time and got raging reviews. On 7th of December, 2007, a light-bronze dusted statue of Ray Charles was unveiled in the midst of the "Ray Charles Plaza" in Albany, Georgia. He is still fondly remembered by his fans across the globe as...
"The Genius of Soul"
Extraordinary Albums
  • Ray Charles
  • The Great Ray Charles
  • Yes Indeed!
  • Soul Brothers
  • Ray Charles at Newport
  • What'd I Say
  • Love Country Style
  • The Genius of Ray Charles
  • Ray Charles in Person
  • The Genius Sings the Blues
  • Soul Meeting
  • The Genius After Hours
  • Love & Peace
  • Ain't It So
  • Brother Ray Is at It Again
  • Genius & Friends
  • Ray Sings, Basie Swings
  • The Genius Hits the Road
  • Ray Charles and Betty Carter
  • Genius + Soul = Jazz
  • Ray Charles Greatest Hits
  • Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music
  • Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music Vol II
  • Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul
  • Sweet & Sour Tears
  • Have a Smile with Me
  • Live in Concert
  • Together Again
  • Crying Time
  • Ray's Moods
  • A Portrait of Ray
  • I'm All Yours Baby!
Memorable Melodies - Top 25
  • You Don't Know Me
  • Crazy Love (feat. Van Morrison)
  • Hit the Road Jack
  • Say No More
  • Georgia on My Mind
  • Careless Love
  • Sinner's Prayer (feat. B.B. King)
  • Do I Ever Cross Your Mind? (feat. Bonnie Raitt)
  • Here We Go Again
  • Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word (feat. Elton John)
  • Fever (feat. Natalie Cole)
  • Love's Gonna Bite You Back
  • A Song for You
  • If I Could
  • It Hurts to be in Love
  • You are my Sunshine
  • Heaven Help Us All (feat. Gladys Knight)
  • Born to Love Me
  • Hey Girl (feat. Michael McDonald)
  • What'd I Say (Parts 1 & 2)
  • Over the Rainbow (feat. Johnny Mathis)
  • It Was a Very Good Year (feat. Willie Nelson)
  • She's Gone
  • Mess Around
  • A Little Bitty Tear
Awards of Honor
  • Georgia State Music Hall of Fame (1979)
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame (1981)
  • Playboy Jazz Award (1984)
  • Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1987)
  • 17 Grammy Awards
  • National Medal of Arts (1993)
  • Polar Music Award (1998)
  • Jazz Hall of Fame (2004)
  • President's Merit Award (2004)