Charles Ray

Charles Ray

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Charles Henry Ray was born in Norwich, New York, in 1821. He moved to Springfield, Illinois, where he edited a temperance newspaper, before working on the Jeffersonian.

A strong opponent of slavery, Ray moved to Chicago and in 1855 joined with Joseph Medill to purchase the Chigago Tribune. A founder member of the Republican Party in Illinois, Ray supported Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election.

A member of the group known as the Radical Republicans, Ray joined Joseph Medill in criticising Lincoln's decision to appoint conservatives such as Simon Cameron (Secretary of War), Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy), Edward Bates (Attorney General), and Montgomery Blair (Postmaster General) to the Cabinet. Charles Henry Ray died in 1870.


Legendary musician and philanthropist Ray Charles loved down-home cooking. Charles’ mother and grandmother were both sharecroppers. On Charles’ frequent visits to New Orleans, you could find him eating at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, owned by his friends Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. and Leah Chase, in the historic Treme neighborhood of New Orleans.

In May of 2003, Dillard University awarded an honorary degree to Ray Charles. During his stay in New Orleans, after private meetings with some of the executive administration at Dillard University under the leadership of former Dillard University President Dr. Michael L. Lomax, Ray Charles expressed his concern for the African American cultural practices and cultural memories that would be lost among future generations. “He talked about traditions of food preparation in the black community that were really a kind of art, that his family had been a part of,” Dr. Lomax told The New York Times. “He wanted to honor his mother, his grandmother and those who had a collective memory of Africa and coming to the New World and creating a cuisine. From his point of view, their knowledge needed to be understood, preserved and transmitted to another generation.”

After careful planning, Ray Charles awarded Dillard University $1 million to establish a program in African American Material Culture with a concentration in the study of African American foodways and material culture in the South. This gift established the first professorship and program of its kind in African American Material Culture at any American university or HBCU. Ray Charles’ vision to preserve the culinary traditions and culture of African Americans in New Orleans and the South would help to create an institution at Dillard University for generations to come.

The Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture is supported by the Ray Charles Foundation.

Early career

After graduation from the Saint Augustine School, Charles traveled across Florida and performed with country and western bands. It was an experience that helped him later, when he added western songs to his performances. Shortly afterward he began touring with rhythm-and-blues bands, arranging and composing music as well as playing the piano, clarinet, and saxophone. In order to avoid being confused with boxing champion Ray Robinson (1921�), he dropped his last name and became known as Ray Charles.

Charles grew tired of Florida and decided to use his savings to go as far away as possible. He wound up in Seattle, Washington, where he formed a band called the McSon Trio, which eventually had its own local television show. He also made several records for the Swingtime record company. In 1950 he moved to Los Angeles, California (where Swingtime was based), and continued to record and perform.

As a singer, blues singers Guitar Slim (1926�) and Percy Mayfield influenced Charles. At the piano, the jazz arrangements of Lloyd Glenn influenced him. The influence of gospel music was always present in his style. Charles's singing of romantic songs continued in the smooth tradition of Nat "King" Cole (1917�), but was boosted by deep-throated growls and high notes that were often thought to be coming from a female voice. His strong voice, his mixing of styles, and his skill as a musician gave him international appeal, but for an English-speaking audience his storytelling power added something extra that made Charles stand out from other artists.

Ray Charles was a poor, blind, newly orphaned teenager living in Tampa, Florida, in 1948 when he decided to move to Seattle, picking the city because it was as far away as he could get from where he was. He stayed only two years, but during that time he cut his first record and began to develop the genre-bending musical style that would make him an international star. Charles often spoke of Seattle as a pivotal point in his long and hugely successful career as a singer/songwriter. "I met a lot of very good friends here," he told one interviewer. "I liked the atmosphere. The people were friendly, the people took to me right away. Seattle is the town where I made my first record. And if you ever want to say where I got my start, you have to say that" (MacDonald).

The Bottom of the Ladder

Ray Charles Robinson was born September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia, the first child of Aretha and Bailey Robinson. His father worked off and on for the railroads his mother took in laundry. The family started out poor and stayed that way throughout the hard years of the Depression. "Even compared to other blacks," Charles recalled, "we were on the bottom of the ladder looking up at everyone else. Nothing below us except the ground" (Charles, 4).

The family moved across the border to Greenville, Florida, when Charles was a few months old. A second child soon followed, a son named George. Bailey Robinson became little more than an occasional visitor after that. "The old man wasn’t part of my life," Charles wrote in his 1978 autobiography. ". to tell the truth, I wouldn’t bet a lot of money he and my mother ever were married. He was a tall dude -- I remember that. But he was hardly ever around" (Charles, 4).

Despite the poverty, Charles recalled his early childhood as a happy time. He felt loved by two women: his mother, whom he called "Mama," and his father’s first wife, a woman he called "Mother." He loved the singing he heard on Sundays at the Shiloh Baptist Church. Above all, he loved picking out boogie-woogie tunes on the upright piano owned by a neighbor named Wylie Pitman. "I was born with music inside me," he said. "And from the moment I learned there were piano keys to be mashed, I started mashing ‘em, trying to make sounds out of feelings" (Charles, 8).

When he was about five, Charles witnessed the drowning death of his younger brother. The two boys had been in the backyard playing near a large metal tub their mother used for washing clothes when four-year-old George slipped over the edge and into the soapy water. Charles tried to pull him out, but his brother -- quickly weighted down by his wet clothing -- was too heavy. Charles ran indoors, screaming for his mother, but it was too late. It was the first major tragedy in a life that would have many other sorrows.

Not long after the drowning, Charles began to lose his vision, apparently as the result of untreated glaucoma. He was completely blind by the time he was seven. He credited his mother with preparing him to live without sight. She made him continue to draw water from the well, bring in the firewood, and do other chores, even though he often tripped and fell. You may be blind, she told him, but you’re not stupid you have to do things for yourself, no one else will do them for you. "She let me roam, let me make my own mistakes, let me discover the world for myself," he wrote (Charles, 6). From this he developed a fierce independence and the ability to maneuver so adroitly that some people, later in his life, doubted that he was really blind.

His mother managed to get him accepted as a charity student at the Florida State School for the Deaf and the Blind (known at the time as the Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb), in St. Augustine, about 130 miles southeast of Greenville. He stayed there for eight years, with time off for summers at home. He learned how to read Braille, to type, to weave baskets, and to repair radios and cars. He also studied music formally for the first time, mastering the piano and other instruments, including clarinet and saxophone. He learned to read and compose music in Braille. He played everything, from Chopin to jazz pianist Art Tatum. On the radio he listened to swing, country-western, and gospel.

Charles later summed up the effect of blindness on his career with three words -- "Nothing, nothing, nothing" -- and pointed out that he had begun playing music by the age of three, when he could still see, and he continued after age seven, when he lost his sight: "I was going to do what I was going to do anyway. So blindness didn’t have anything to do with it. It didn't give me anything. And it didn't take nothing" (Pareles and Weinraub).

Charles’ mother died shortly before his 15th birthday. It was, he wrote later, the most devastating experience of his life. He felt like "truly a lost child." He left school and moved to nearby Jacksonville, where he stayed for a while with one of his mother’s friends. He began trying to make a living as a musician, working as a sideman in small combos. "Work was very sparse," he wrote. "I might work a couple of nights and then no more for two weeks or three weeks -- whenever something came along. Hit and miss, really, that's what it was" (Charles, 26).

Eventually, he moved on to Tampa. But he found it difficult to survive as a musician in Florida. He also resented working for other people. He wanted to form his own group, and make a fresh start in a new place. Too intimidated to try New York or Chicago, he asked a friend -- guitarist Garcia "Gosady" McGee -- what city in the continental United States was farthest from Florida. McGee "took a map and went diagonal across it, and there was Seattle sittin’ up in the Northwest, and I said let me go there and see what I can do" (MacDonald).

R. C. Robinson arrived in Seattle in March 1948, after a five-day bus trip from Tampa. He found a town that was, as he put it "really open and smokin'." A vibrant jazz scene had sprung up in Pioneer Square and in the Central Area, nurtured by a wartime influx of African Americans drawn by jobs in Puget Sound shipyards. There were more than 30 nightclubs in the area around Jackson Street, open all hours of the day and night. The competition for jobs in the clubs was fierce, Charles told jazz historian Paul de Barros. "Many cats had just left the armed-forces bands -- and don’t think those outfits couldn’t play," he said. "There were lots of musicians roaming the streets who’d blow your ass off the stand if you gave ‘em half the chance" (de Barros, 151).

Sojourn in Seattle

Despite his youth, Charles quickly established himself in the Seattle music community. Within days, he had earned a gig at the black Elks Club at 662 Jackson Street, playing piano and singing in a trio with his friend McGee, on guitar, and local bassist Milt Jarrett (sometimes spelled Garred). They called themselves the McSon Trio (after the "Mc" in McGee and the "son" in Robinson). The trio "was the first thing I had that I could honestly say was mine," Charles said later.

However, the McSon Trio belonged more to Nat "King" Cole than to Ray Charles. "When Ray came here, you could close your eyes and you’d swear Nat King Cole was singing," said jazz vocalist Ernestine Anderson, a teenager when she met Charles during his Seattle sojourn (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Charles had yet to put his own stamp on his music. He deliberately mimicked Nat Cole, Charles Brown, and other popular artists. He later said the legacy of growing up poor made him hesitate to develop his own sound. "I could get a lot of work sounding like Nat Cole," he told interviewer Terry Gross. "I could work in night clubs. I could make a living with his sound" (Gross interview).

Charles moved into a small apartment on 20th Avenue and equipped it with the essentials, including an electric piano and a combination radio/record player. He shopped on his own, cooked his own meals, did his own laundry. His independence greatly impressed the young Quincy Jones, another teenage musical prodigy, who showed up at the Elks Club one night to check out rumors he had heard about "a blind dude" who was "tearing the place up with his singing and playing." It was, Jones wrote in his autobiography, "love at first instinct for both of us" -- the beginning of a lifelong friendship and collaboration (Jones, 86).

Jones, then 15, was amazed that the 17-year-old Charles had his own apartment, a well-stocked bar, three suits, and a bevy of girlfriends. He also marveled at the way Charles ignored his blindness. "I’d watch him cross the street without cane or dog, dodging traffic . never missing a step," he wrote. "It was like somebody forgot to tell Ray he was blind. In fact, Ray never acted blind unless there was a pretty girl around, then he’d get all helpless and sightless, bumping into walls and doors" (Jones, 86). Jones went on to become one of the country’s most successful composers and producers. His body of work includes collaborations with Charles on three important albums: The Genius (1959), Genius + Soul = Jazz (1961), and Back on the Block (1989).

In the racially divided Seattle of the 1940s, the McSon Trio played gigs for white audiences at such venues as the Seattle Tennis Club, University of Washington fraternities, and uptown ballrooms. They played for black audiences at after-hours clubs such as the Washington Social Club, the Black & Tan, the 908 Club, and the blues-oriented Rocking Chair, on 14th just off Yesler. Their popularity gained them a regular 15-minute spot on KRSC radio. Late in 1948, the group performed on KRSC-TV (predecessor to KING-TV), in one of the earliest live broadcasts in Seattle. At 18, Charles was getting his first taste of celebrity.

Rockin’ Chair Blues

It was at the Rocking Chair that Charles met Jack Lauderdale, a record producer from Los Angeles. As Charles told the story, "Jack was there one night and heard us playing. He said, ‘I'd like to sign you guys up to a contract. What would you think about that?’ Oh, man, I was so excited! ‘Wow! We're gonna get a record contract!’ There was nothing about any advance or money up front. All the man said to me was he was gonna record me, and we'd have a hit" (Charles, 18).

The trio recorded "Confession Blues" (written by Charles) and "I Love You, I Love You" (written by his friend, Joe Lee Lawrence) in a small, primitive Seattle studio. It was released as a 78 in early 1949 -- credited to the Maxin Trio. It sold respectably enough that Lauderdale took the group to Los Angeles to make several other recordings for the Swingtime label, including "Rockin’ Chair Blues," which pays tribute to Charles’ Seattle days. "If you're feelin' low down, don't have a soul to care, just grab your hat and start for the Rockin' Chair," he sang. The record was a hit on "race records" (later called Rhythm and Blues) charts in late 1949.

Charles returned to Los Angeles in 1950 to record "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand," working with musicians who had played with Nat Cole. By this time, he was billed as "Ray Charles, the blind singing sensation." He had dropped his last name, partly in deference to the boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson, and partly in an effort to define himself as his own person -- not a Nat Cole clone. "I woke up one morning and started thinking: nobody knows my name," he said. "Everybody’s calling me ‘Hey kid -- you sound just like Nat Cole.’ It was always ‘Hey kid.’ I started telling myself, ‘Your mama always told you to be yourself and you got to be yourself if you want to make it in this business'" (Gross interview).

One other legacy of Charles’ Seattle years was an addiction to heroin. He discussed his addiction openly in his autobiography. It began, he said, with a desire to both emulate older musicians and prove his independence. Although he never served an extended jail sentence, he was arrested for possession of narcotics in 1955, 1961, and 1965. After his third arrest, he checked himself into a California sanatorium to kick his 17-year habit and stopped performing for a year, the only break during his long career.

On the Road

Charles left Seattle in 1950 and began touring with blues guitarist Lowell Fulson. “We woke up one day and R.C. was here,” said Ernestine Anderson, who occasionally sang with Charles in Seattle clubs. "We didn’t know where he came from or how he got here. That’s the way he left. We woke up one day and no Ray" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

He continued to refine his style during the next few years, melding blues and gospel, bebop and swing. He toured up and down the West Coast and throughout the South. His schedule kept him on the road for much of the year -- a regimen that he continued for more than half a century. He still managed to find studio time, although it was often in radio stations along the way.

After signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, he persuaded the label to let him record with his touring band. His first national hit, “I’ve Got a Woman,” was recorded in 1954 in a radio station studio in Atlanta with his seven-piece band. It signaled the emergence of what became the classic Ray Charles – bluesy, tender, raw, intense, a mix of the secular (jazz) and the sacred (gospel). The record was followed by a string of other gospel-tinged hits, including “Drown in My Tears” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So.”

In the mid-1950s, Charles expanded his band to include a group of female backup signers (the Raelettes), who provided gospel-like responses to his deep, raspy baritone. They became a permanent part of his music -- and they also hinted at his sometimes volatile relationships with women.

On the road in the 1950s and 1960s, Charles often encountered the same kind of segregation that he had grown up with in the South. As an African American, he stayed in rooming houses instead of the Hilton or the Sheraton he had to make sure that the band stopped at a gas station that had rest rooms for "Colored" at restaurants, he sometimes had to go around to the back door for a sandwich instead of a hot meal in the dining room. He would say years later that racism affected him just as it did any other black person at the time. "What I never understood to this day, to this very day, was how white people could have black people cook for them, make their meals, but wouldn't let them sit at the table with them," he said. "How can you dislike someone so much and have them cook for you? Shoot, if I don't like someone you ain't cooking nothing for me, ever" (Pareles and Weinraub).

The Genius of Soul

Charles became a certified star with the 1959 release of “What’d I Say.” The record broke the usual two and a half-minute mold for a radio song, with its extended “call and response” chorus and improvisational style. It was followed the next year by a version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” a sweet ballad with strings and a vocal chorus. The song demonstrated Charles’ versatility and his love for the South. In 1979, it became the official anthem of the state of Georgia.

He branched out into other musical genres in the 1960s and 1970s, including country-and-western (“Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” both released in 1962) middle-of-the-road pop (“You Are My Sunshine,” 1962) and British pop (releasing a version of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” in 1968). At the same time, he continued to pay homage to his roots in jazz. He refused categorization. He confounded some of his fans by accepting an invitation to perform “America the Beautiful” for President Richard Nixon in 1972, but the song became one of his standards (he sang it again at the Republican National Convention in 1984). Drawing from jazz, gospel, blues, and country, he created a river that only he could navigate.

Music critic Patrick Macdonald credits Charles with first using the word "Soul" to describe his style of music. To Frank Sinatra, Charles was "The Genius." Quincy Jones put the two together and called Charles "The Genius of Soul."

He could be difficult. He was sometimes hard on his band members and background singers. His private life was, as The New York Times delicately put it, "complicated" (Pareles and Weinraub). He was divorced twice and fathered 12 children. Still, he remained a consummate performer almost to the very end of his life. He made more than 60 albums, won 12 Grammys (including one for “A Song for You” in 1993), and earned a string of honors, including induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 1993. Along the way, he influenced generations of singers, from Sinatra to Elvis to Billy Joel.

Charles died at his home in Beverly Hills, California, on June 10, 2004, of liver disease. He was 73. He had recently recovered from hip replacement surgery and had planned to resume touring in June when he became ill. Earlier, he had completed work on his last album, a collection of duets with Norah Jones, B. B. King, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, and others. The album was released on August 31, 2004, under the title Genius Loves Company. It swept the Grammys in 2005, winning eight awards, including Album of the Year.

He saw his life primarily as an example of what anyone can accomplish. "I would like people to know that you can recover from a lot of adversity that you might have in your life if you keep pressing on," he told one interviewer. "In other words, you don’t give up just because you get knocked down a few times" (Kahn interview).

His death unleashed a torrent of tributes, including this one from Ernestine Anderson: "The gods were smiling on us when he came to Seattle" (MacDonald).

Ray Charles, International Jazz Festival of Montréal, July 15, 2003

Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich (CC BY 3.0)

Ray Charles, 1969

Ray Charles concert poster, Seattle, 1966, commercial reprint ca. 2008

Ray Charles (1930-2004)

Ray Charles Robinson, a talented musician, singer and composer, was one of the first African American artists to merge the blues with gospel to pave the way for rhythm and blues (R&B) music. Robinson was born September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. At age five, he began to go blind, and by the age of seven, his sight was completely gone. In order to help teach him to be self-sufficient, his mother sent Robinson to the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, a racially segregated school in Florida. There he learned to read music in Braille as well as to play both classical and jazz music on the piano.

Robinson’s mother passed away when he was fifteen years old. He decided to move to Seattle, Washington, where he continued his musical development. By 1948, he had become a professional musician, shortening his name to Ray Charles, and forming his own trio. Before his twentieth birthday, Robinson had become a local sensation in the bars and clubs along Seattle’s Jackson Street.

In 1952, Ray Charles signed with Atlantic Records, one of the largest labels in the country. Although his initial style was influenced by artists like Nat King Cole and Charles Brown, by 1955 Charles changed direction when. He recorded the gospel-influenced “I Got a Woman,” which became his first hit. After adding a female backup group called the Raelettes to his lineup, Charles recorded “What’d I Say” in 1959 which made him one of the leading R&B artists in the nation.

In the 1960s Charles’s releases moved between pop, R&B and country and western music as he influenced artists and developed audiences in each genre. One of his compositions during this period, “Georgia on My Mind,” was eventually adopted as the official song for the state of Georgia. In 1965, at the peak of his career, Charles took a year long break to overcome a heroin addiction following his arrest on drug charges.

Charles also supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. He became a friend and financial backer of Dr. Martin Luther King and after 1963 refused to play before segregated audiences. Charles also composed protest songs such as “Danger Zone” and “You’re in for a Big Surprise.”

Ray Charles continued to write and perform well into the 1990s. Over his long career his accolades included more than a dozen Grammy Awards, induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a bronze medallion from the French Republic in recognition of his contribution to world music. Ray Charles died on June 10, 2004.

Ray Charles Was a Chess Fiend

It was while Ray Charles was enrolled in a rehabilitation program at St. Francis hospital, near Los Angeles in 1965 that the musician learned to play chess. Taught by his doctor at the clinic, Charles, fighting insomnia, often played throughout the night with other patients. Charles loved that winning at chess was not a matter of luck, but rather of skill. “We start with the same pieces in the same places,” he observed. “You’ve got to outwit, out-think, and out-maneuver the other person.”

Charles maintained a life-long passion for the game and even had his own chessboards made, one of which is now in the American History Museum. The musician’s board features squares of alternating height the black squares are raised while the white squares are lowered. To help him identify the pieces by touch, the black pieces have sharper tops, while the white ones have round ones.

The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention Biography

Charles Eames (1907&ndash78) and Ray Eames (1912&ndash88) gave shape to America's twentieth century. Their lives and work represented the nation's defining movements: the West Coast's coming-of-age, the economy's shift from making goods to producing information, and the global expansion of American culture. The Eameses embraced the era's visionary concept of modern design as an agent of social change, elevating it to a national agenda. Their evolution from furniture designers to cultural ambassadors demonstrated their boundless talents and the overlap of their interests with those of their country. In a rare era of shared objectives, the Eameses partnered with the federal government and the country's top businesses to lead the charge to modernize postwar America.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Charles Eames grew up in America's industrial heartland. As a young man he worked for engineers and manufacturers, anticipating his lifelong interest in mechanics and the complex working of things. Ray Kaiser, born in Sacramento, California, demonstrated her fascination with the abstract qualities of ordinary objects early on. She spent her formative years in the orbit of New York's modern art movements and participated in the first wave of American-born abstract artists.

Ray's abstract cover designs for Arts & Architecture magazine signified the Los Angeles-based magazine's commitment to avant-garde art, architecture, music, and film.

Arts & Architecture Covers Designed by Ray, 1942-44, reproductions. Additional covers: two - three - four - five - six - seven - eight - nine - ten - eleven - twelve. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (A-08)

Designed for the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, Mathematica was the first of many major science exhibitions produced by the Eames Office.

Ray and Charles Working on a Conceptual Model for the Exhibition Mathematica, 1960, photograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (A-22a)

From 1943 to 1988, the Eames Office was located in a renovated garage at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, then an industrial section of Los Angeles.

Charles's Office, 1976, photograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (A-23)

From 1943 to 1988, the Eames Office was located in a renovated garage at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, then an industrial section of Los Angeles.

Charles's Office, 1976, photograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (A-23)

For the Eameses, the design process would be successful only by identifying the overlapping needs of client, society, and designer and developing products that would serve all three.

Diagram by Charles. Displayed in the 1969 Exhibition Qu'est-ce Que Le Design? (What is Design?) at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, photograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (A-20)

Slides by the Eameses

Multi-screen slide shows were perhaps the Eameses most effective method for presenting everyday things in new ways and relationships. Encompassing an enormous breadth of subject matter, the slide shows were assembled for school courses and lectures as well as for corporate events. For these elaborate presentations, the Eameses drew upon their meticulously catalogued collection of approximately 350,000 slides: their very own "cabinet of curiosity."

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

Eameses Travel Slides. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-06)

About Ray Charles

They call him the “genius” and they call him the “father of soul.” With perfect pitch and an expressive voice, he combines worlds as diverse as jazz, country, rhythm and blues, and gospel to break your heart or make you dance. His name is Ray Charles, and if you turn your radio to any station you will hear the influence of his ground-breaking music.

Ray Charles was born into a poor family on September 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia, though he was raised in Florida. Completely blind by the age of seven, Charles attended the Saint Augustine School of the Blind and Deaf where he began to study piano, saxophone, and clarinet. When he was only fifteen his mother died (followed two years later by his father) and Charles began working as a traveling musician throughout Florida, and later Washington state.

In the early years he traveled with country/western and jazz bands, singing and playing the piano. His “cool” sound was heavily influenced by the popular Nat “King” Cole, but he was beginning to find his style with a throatier, unrestrained sound reminiscent of gospel music. In 1950 he moved to Los Angeles , and by 1954 had his first big hit with Atlantic Records. “I Got A Woman,” combined the blues of greats like Guitar Slim with the sounds of gospel. This recording would make Charles famous and mark the beginning of a new genre, “soul.”

Charles spent the rest of the 1950s continuing to combine blues, gospel, and jazz in such hits as “In My Own Tears,” “What’d I Say,” “Unchain My Heart,” “Hit the Road Jack,” and “Georgia on My Mind.” With these dynamic compositions and his incredible popularity, Charles single-handedly changed the face of contemporary music. By the early 1960s, he formed a big band and had a top ten instrumental hit with “One Mint Julep.” He followed this with the 1962 release of GENIUS + SOUL = JAZZ, and a number of very popular country albums.

With the release of MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN (Vol 1 and 2), Charles brought his unique style to a new audience and had major hits including “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Born To Lose” and “Busted.” In the mid-1960s, he was arrested for drug possession, which prompted his successful fight against a seventeen year heroin addiction. During this time, Charles kept a low profile though he did have hits with a number of Beatles’ covers, and the song “Crying Time.” His output during the 1970s included work with singers Randy Newman and Stevie Wonder.

In the 1980s, Charles was often in the public eye, making frequent appearances on television and in the movies. He had a number of albums and performed duets with many well-known musicians including Willie Nelson, Chaka Khan, and the Blues Brothers. His appearance on the 1985 release of “We Are the World,” brought a renewed interest in much of his work. During the 1990s he continued to write and perform, and in 1992 President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts. To this day, Ray Charles is one of the most important influences on popular music. His passionate singing and intelligent melding of different genres remains the ideal by which many musicians continue to gauge their work.

Ray Charles was addicted to heroin for nearly two decades

Ray Charles began using heroin when he was 18 years old, and was addicted to the drug for the next 17 years, according to Irish Times. He was busted for possession for the first time on November 17, 1956, backstage after a show in Philadelphia. According to "Icons of Rock: An Encyclopedia of the Legends Who Changed Music Forever," Charles' manager bailed him out, and his lawyer ultimately managed to have all charges dropped, reportedly in exchange for $6,000. But the incident wasn't enough to get Charles to stop using. "There wasn't an instance where his addiction interfered with his work," music journalist and producer Jerry Wexler said. "When it came to Ray's professionalism, there could be no grounds for complaint. He worked his ass off."

Charles was arrested again in 1965 because he was "reportedly in possession of a planeload of heroin," per Rolling Stone. He reportedly spent three months in medical and psychiatric treatment in California and took a year off from touring. "He took that year off to kick it," record executive Ron Granger told the magazine. "It took a year."

During a 1970 interview for Playboy magazine, a journalist asked Charles whether he might be an inspiration for his fans to overcome addiction. "Bulls**t," Charles replied (via Rolling Stone). "Everybody's aware that cigarettes probably cause cancer, but how many people do you think would give them up just because Ray Charles stopped smoking?"

Not without his staples

Of course, Ray Charles did have one minor addiction that remained with him long after his heroin using days were over and that was coffee with a splash of gin added, daily. Considering the life that Ray Charles led from early childhood, and then comparing that upbringing and the struggles that he endured to musicians and other celebrities today who live a charmed life for the most part from their childhood through adult life, it is remarkable that someone with so many obstacles, pain, and sacrifice laid out before him could quit so readily after so many years.

This leads us back to the principle that a person must want to quit using drugs or alcohol before any type of rehab will be effective. If there is no desire to improve or to better one's life, then there will be no chance at living that kind of dream.

Ray Charles in life stands as a testimony to the power of will over substance abuse. He is one of the leaders in famous celebrity recoveries. It is a mystery why some people can stop cold turkey and just walk away from drug and alcohol addiction the rest of their lives while others are in and out of rehab until the day they die.

Ray Charles, in overcoming his addiction, provides an inspiring story of hope to millions who suffer with similar substance abuse problems.

Watch the video: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin: Best Songs - Old Soul Music Of The 50s 60s 70s (July 2022).


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