Ray Charles

  • Singer, pianist, songwriter born Ray Charles Robinson in 1930 in Albany Georgia. He grew up in Greenville Florida. He died in 2004 from liver disease.
  • At the age of 3, Ray first heard the piano played by a family friend. The friend began to teach Ray to play. Ray began to lose his sight due to glacoma when he was 4, and by 7, he was completely blind. He attended a school for the deaf and blind, and further studied the piano there, playing classical music. He preferred the jazz, blues and country music that he heard on the radio, and he started playing these styles. At his school, he started the group RC Robinson and the Shop Boys. He was expelled from school at 15, and moved to Jacksonville Florida to live with friends of his mother, who died when he was 14.
  • He played in various bands in Jacksonville, and then moved to larger cities in Florida in search of better work in music. He dropped his last name to avoid confusion with the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. He began to wear sunglasses while he performed. He always played for other people, but wanted his own band. He moved to Seattle Washington when he was 17. He started playing with 2 other artists in a group called The McSon Trio. In 1949, they recorded Confession Blues, which became a national hit, reaching #2 on the R&B chart. He moved to Los Angeles, and started recording for a record label, as Ray Charles, or as The Ray Charles Trio. He released 14 singles between 1949 and 1953, with Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand and Kissa Me Baby reaching the top 10 on the R&B chart.
  • In 1952, he signed with Atlantic Records. Between 1952 and 1980, they released 46 of his singles and 13 studio and live albums. 17 of the singles were top 10 songs on the R&B chart, with 5 songs at #1 – but he still had not crossed over to mainstream music.
  • In 1959, he signed with ABC Records, and he began to have success in popular music also. In 1960, he had his first hit single with his new record company, Georgia On My Mind. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it won 2 Grammy awards. The following year, his second #1 hit was released – Hit The Road Jack. This song also won a Grammy award.
  • His only #1 album on the Billboard 200 chart prior to his death was released in 1962, titled Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music. It contained the #1 hit I Can’t Stop Loving You. This is his only song that reached #1 in the UK also.
  • While with ABC Records, he released 24 albums, and 77 singles. Of the singles, 26 charted in the top 10 on the R&B charts, with 10 crossing over to top 10 on the Hot 100 chart. Notable songs were You Don’t Know Me, Busted, and Crying Time.
  • By the early 70s, Charles’ music was losing its appeal, though he continue to record and perform. Four albums were released under his own recording label, with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Living For the City winning a Grammy award.
  • In the 80s, he continued to record, particularly collaborations with country music stars. His song with Willie Nelson in 1985, Seven Spanish Angels, was his final #1 song, peaking on the Billboard Country chart.
  • Soon after his death in 2004, Charles’ final studio album – Genius Loves Company – was released. It was a duet album, with Charles singing with 12 different guest vocalists, including James Taylor, Elton John, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Gladys Knight. The songs were popular standards from country, jazz, soul, blues and R&B. It became one of his best selling albums, reaching #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and selling over 3 million copies. It was awarded 8 Grammy awards, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Over 225 artists and music technicians contributed to the album.
  • There are numerous noteworthy things about Ray Charles. Rolling Stone ranks him as the #10 Greatest Artist of All Time, and the #2 Greatest Singer of All Time. Three of his albums make the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums, with The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Recordings highest at #54. Four songs make the Greatest Songs list, with What’d I Say ranking #10. He won 17 Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement award, and 10 of his recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1986, he was part of the inaugural group of artists inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
  • Love music? Then you better have an ear for Ray Charles. I remember watching him perform, always amazed that a blind man could do what he did. His gyrations while playing at the piano were his signature. One of his most famous works is America The Beautiful. Here’s a clip of Charles performing it in 1999.

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