Ray Charles Robinson was born in Georgia on September 30, 1930 and grew up to be a musician, a composer and a songwriter who didn’t stay in one genre, but mixed it all up to create a sound that was new to the world and one that was all his own.
He went by the name Ray Charles and was always seen in sunglasses no matter the weather, this was something he came up with in the 1950’s as a prop or a “hook” more than for practical reasons because we all know that Ray Charles was legally blind. However, he pioneered the genre of “soul music” and had the moniker “High priest of soul” bestowed upon him that stayed with him throughout his career.
Ray Charles wasn’t born blind, but he started to lose his sight around the age of four. It is likely he suffered from glaucoma, but being from a poor family and living in a small town in the 1930’s this went undiagnosed and then robbed him of his sight all together. Not that it did anything to dampen his spirit, however as his mother enrolled him in the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind and this is where he learned music. He started by playing classical music and learned how to read music in braille which is a complicated system but one he excelled at.
He spent the time after school playing music and hanging with several different bands where they played small venues and didn’t make a lot of money. It wasn’t until he moved to larger cities where he got more exposure, and finally a record deal. His first big hit was Mess Around, released in 1953. It is a song with roots in rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues and it was a hit with critics and fans alike. Should Have Been Me and Don’t You Know were hits in 1954.
Perhaps his biggest hit and the one that is most synonymous with Ray Charles is Georgia On My Mind, which was released in 1960. It won him two of his four Grammy Awards and today is considered a classic.
Although he battled addiction for sixteen years and was legally blind, Charles didn’t stop chasing his dreams. He has twelve children and has been married twice, and his children are his legacy, along with his music. He died in June of 2004 after many years of song writing and awards to his credit. Never give up on your dreams, you never know where they’ll take you!