Ray CharlesMost people traveling between Jacksonville and Pensacola will get on I-10 and, aside from maybe a brief stop in Tallahassee, they’ll make it a non-stop trip.
But if you take Exit 241 and drive a short distance north on U.S. 221, you’ll be in the town of Greenville, Florida – the place where Ray Charles was raised.
Although he was born in Georgia, Charles had deep ties to Florida. He was raised in Greenville, educated in St. Augustine at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, and played at clubs around Orlando before heading across the nation to Seattle and fame.
It was Florida where he paid his dues. The folks in Greenville thought so, too, and put a wonderful statue of the local boy who made good in a prominent place.
He was the musician most responsible for developing soul music. Singers like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson also did a great deal to pioneer the form, but Charles did even more to devise a new form of Black pop by merging '50s R&B with gospel-powered vocals, adding plenty of flavor from contemporary jazz, blues, and (in the '60s) country. Then there was his singing; his style was among the most emotional and easily identifiable of any 20th century performer, up there with the likes of and Elvis and Billie Holiday. He was also a superb keyboard player, arranger, and bandleader. The brilliance of his 1950s and '60s work, however, can't obscure the fact that he made few classic tracks after the mid-'60s, though he recorded often and performed until the year before his death.
Blind since the age of six:
From glaucoma. Charles studied composition and learned many instruments at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind. His parents had died by his early teens, and he worked as a musician in Florida for a while before using his savings to move to Seattle in 1947. By the late '40s, he was recording in a smooth pop/R&B style derivative of Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. He got his first Top Ten R&B hit with "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" in 1951. Charles' first recordings came in for their fair share of criticism, as they were much milder and less original than the classics that would follow, although they're actually fairly enjoyable, showing strong hints of the skills that were to flower in a few years.
After his family moved to Greenville, Florida (near Tallahassee) Charles was soon enrolled at a state-supported school for the deaf and blind in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1937. During his eight years there, Charles received a formal music education, mastered Braille and learned to play piano, organ, clarinet, trumpet and saxophone. On summer breaks, he occasionally entertained relatives in Tallahassee's black district, known as Frenchtown.
1945 Chitlin Circuit:
At 15, he left school to join the South's so-called "chitlin' circuit, performing at gigs throughout the south, mostly in black dance halls in Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville, where he lived briefly. In Tampa, he played for a southern band called The Florida Playboys, wearing his signature sunglasses for the first time. It was in Tampa that he made his first three recordings.
In 1948, Charles left Florida for Seattle, Washington, to pursue better opportunities in music. There he met 14-year-old Quincy Jones, and the two developed what would become a close personal and professional relationship for the rest of Charles' life.
Sugar Ray Robinson:Charles dropped his last name "Robinson," mainly to avoid popular confusion, since boxer Sugar Ray Robinson had become a household name in the U.S.
1950s Atlantic Records:
A decade of phenomenal success for Charles. First signed to Atlantic Records, he scored his first No. 1 hit with "I Got a Woman," a song that combined elements of gospel music with blues. The wildly popular recording spawned a new musical genre that eventually would become known as soul music. Charles ended the decade on a high note with the single "What'd I Say." The song topped the R&B chart in 1959 and was Charles' first cross-over hit.
1960s a string of smash hits:
Many of which not only became Charles' all-time signature songs, but also were unprecedented blends of soul, blues, jazz and country western sounds. Such hits as "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit the Road Jack," "You Don't Know Me," and "Crying Time," ably demonstrated Charles' extraordinary grasp of the full range of American pop music.
2004 Liver Cancer:
Ray Charles had conquered not only the music world, but also a 20-year addiction to drugs. His legacy—underscored by a dozen Grammy Awards, three Emmy nominations, inductions into the Rock, Jazz and Rhythm and Blues halls of fame, among a long list of other honors—is generally regarded as an essential and indelible element in the bedrock of American pop music.
The “Genius of Soul” is nearly unsurpassed in his contribution to American music. In over fifty years of writing, performing, and recording, Ray Charles left his indelible mark on rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, rock & roll, and even country.
Recorded in 1949, shortly after Ray Charles relocated to Seattle (where he famously met songwriter Robert Blackwell and a young Quincy Jones), "Confession Blues" was released on the short-lived Down Beat Records label as The Maxin Trio (actually, The McSon Trio, the label misnamed it). The song emulated the style of Nat King Cole (who Charles modeled himself after early on) and reached #2 on the R&B charts, his first national hit.
I Got A Woman:
Ray Charles' first chart topper, and one of his best known songs, co-written with trumpeter Renald Richard while on the road in 1954. "I Got A Woman" reached #1 on the R&B chart after its release in 1955 on Atlantic Records. The song bridged together gospel, jazz and R&B into what would become Charles' signature sound, later dubbed "soul music."
What I'd Say:
Following a simiar sonic recipe as "I Got A Woman," Charles finally cracked the Billboard Top 10 with "What I'd Say" (Atlantic Records), as "soul music" entered the mainstream. At the time of its release, the song's sexual innuendos were quite controversial, but nevertheless immensely popular. It became Charles' first gold record, and his go-to closer for live shows.
Georgia On My Mind:
Following the success of "What I'd Say," Ray Charles decided not to resign with Atlantic Records, opting for a lucrative deal with ABC-Paramount. Jazz fans may remember his 1960 Quincy Jones-collaboration Genius + Soul = Jazz (released on ABC's subsidiary label Impulse!), but it was his signature interpretation of "Georgia on My Mind" that received popular acclaim and four GRAMMY Awards.
Ray Charles Robinson was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer. He is regarded as one of the most iconic and influential singers ever, and he was often referred to as “The Genius”.Ray Charles:
- Among friends and fellow musicians he preferred being called "Brother Ray".
- Charles was blinded during childhood, possibly due to glaucoma.
- Charles pioneered the soul music genre during the 1950s by combining blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel styles into the music he recorded for Atlantic.
- He contributed to the integration of country music, rhythm and blues, and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records,
- While he was with ABC, Charles became one of the first black musicians to be granted artistic control by a mainstream record company.
- Charles's 1960 hit "Georgia On My Mind" was the first of his three career No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100.
- His 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music became his first album to top the Billboard 200.
- Charles had multiple singles reach the Top 40 on various Billboard charts: 44 on the US R&B singles chart, 11 on the Hot 100 singles chart, 2 on the Hot Country singles charts.
- Charles cited Nat King Cole as a primary influence, but his music was also influenced by Louis Jordan and Charles Brown.
- He had a lifelong friendship and occasional partnership with Quincy Jones.
- Frank Sinatra called Ray Charles "the only true genius in show business," although Charles downplayed this notion.
- Billy Joel said, "This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley".
He was one of the inaugural inductees at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986.
The Robinson Family:
Ray Charles Robinson was the son of Bailey Robinson, a laborer, and Aretha (or Reatha) Robinson (nee Williams), a laundress, of Greenville, Florida.
During Aretha's childhood, her mother died. Her father could not keep her. Bailey, a man her father worked with, took her in. The Robinson family — Bailey, his wife Mary Jane and his mother — informally adopted her and Aretha took the surname Robinson. A few years later 15-year-old Aretha became pregnant by Bailey. During the ensuing scandal, she left Greenville late in the summer of 1930 to be with family in Albany, Georgia. After the birth of Ray Charles, she and her baby returned to Greenville. Aretha and Bailey's wife, who had lost a son, then shared in Charles's upbringing. His father abandoned the family, left Greenville, and married another woman elsewhere. By his first birthday Charles had a brother, George. In later years, no one could remember who George's father was.
His musical curiosity was sparked at Wylie Pitman's Red Wing Cafe, at the age of three, when Pitman played boogie woogie on an old upright piano; Pitman subsequently taught Charles how to play the piano. Charles and his mother were always welcome at the Red Wing Cafe and even lived there when they were in financial distress. Pitman would also care for Ray's younger brother George, to take some of the burden off their mother. George accidentally drowned in his mother's laundry tub when he was four years old.
Charles started to lose his sight at the age of four or five, and was blind by the age of seven, likely as a result of glaucoma. Destitute, uneducated, and mourning the loss of her younger son, Aretha Robinson used her connections in the local community to find a school that would accept a blind African-American pupil. Despite his initial protest, Charles attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine from 1937 to 1945.
Charles further developed his musical talent at school and was taught to play the classical piano music of J.S. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.
His teacher, Mrs. Lawrence, taught him how to use braille music, a difficult process that requires learning the left hand movements by reading braille with the right hand and learning the right hand movements by reading braille with the left hand, and then combining the two parts.
Ray Charles's mother died in the spring of 1945, when he was 14. Her death came as a shock to him; he later said the deaths of his brother and mother were "the two great tragedies" of his life. Charles decided not to return to school after the funeral.
Charles was married twice. His first marriage was less than a year, his second 22 years. Throughout his life Charles had many relationships with women with whom he fathered a dozen children.