A tragic fate may have given this visionary a heightened sensitivity, perception, awareness, even expansion to his obvious musical gifts that he may have never touched upon had he not suffered from his physical affliction. Whatever it was, Ray Charles revolutionized American music and was catapulted to legendary status by the time he died in Beverly Hills at age 73. Born to Aretha and Baily Robinson, an impoverished Albany, Georgia, family that moved to Greenville, Florida while he was still an infant. It was not a cause for joy and celebration. His father soon abandoned the family and his baby brother, George Robinson, drowned in a freak washtub accident. Ray himself developed glaucoma at the age of five and within two years had lost his sight completely. A singer in a Baptist choir, he developed a love and feel for rhythms and studied music at the State School for Deaf and Blind Children, showing which brought out his talent and ear for playing various instruments, including the piano and clarinet. An orphan by his early teens, Ray joined a country band at age 16 called The Florida Playboys. He moved to Seattle in 1948 where he and Southern guitarist Gossady McGee formed the McSon Trio. With an emphasis on easy-styled jazz, Ray also played in bebop sessions on the sly. He departed from the McSon Trio and signed with Los Angeles-based Swing Time Records, becoming the pianist for rhythm and blues great Lowell Fulson and his band. Atlantic Records eventually picked him up. Along the road he would add composer, writer and arranger to his formidable list of talents.
Ray's first R&B hit was "Confession Blues" in Los Angeles in 1949. In 1951, he had his first solo chart buster with "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand". His amazing versatility and raw, soulful delivery quickly caught on with audiences and helped put Atlantic Records on the map. Hits like "Mess Around", "Things I Used to Do", "A Fool for You", "I've Got a Woman", "Drown in My Own Tears", and especially "What'd I Say" in 1959, pushed gospel and R&B to a wider crossover audience. He made a move into the country music arena--unheard of for a black singer--in the 1960s, doing soulful spins on Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold tunes. In 1960, he left Atlantic and signed with ABC-Paramount. Under ABC-Paramount, hits poured out during this peak time with "I Can't Stop Loving You", "Hit the Road Jack", "Busted" and his beloved signature song "Georgia On My Mind".
His landmark 1962 album "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music" brought a new swinging style to country music. From there, he traveled a mainstream route--from interpreting songs from The Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby") to appearing in "Diet Pepsi" ads ("You Got the Right One, Baby, Uh-huh!"). He also showed up sporadically in films, playing himself in the movie Ballad in Blue (1964) and guest-starring in The Blues Brothers (1980) with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. A television musical variety favorite with his trademark dark sunglasses and dry humor, he worked alongside such musical legends as Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand on their very special evenings of song.
It is hard to believe that with everything he accomplished, Ray also had to deal with a longstanding heroin problem. In the mid-1960s, he was arrested for possession of heroin and marijuana and revealed that he had been addicted for nearly two decades. By 1965, he had completely recovered. The man who lived life on the edge was divorced twice and had 12 children both in and outside his marriages. At the time of his death from liver disease in 2004, he was working on a recording project of duets with such performers as Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Elton John and Norah Jones. This collaboration entitled "Genius Loves Company" led to an incisive win at the Grammy Awards--eight posthumous trophies including "Album of the Year" and "Record of the Year".
|Della Beatrice Howard||(5 April 1955 - 1977) (divorced) 3 children|
|Eileen Williams||(31 July 1951 - 1952) (divorced)|
His big smile and dry humor
Always seen in jet dark sunglasses
Gospel-rooted baritone voice
He was married twice and had many girlfriends. He had 12 children, 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Blind from glaucoma since age 6.
Hired for a car commercial, he actually drove a car without assistance - in the Death Valley desert. He said that it was one of the most exciting experiences of his life.
Awarded honorary doctor of humane letters by Wilberforce University, a private, historically black university in Wilberforce, Ohio (December 1999)
Awarded the Polar Music Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music Award, in 1998.
His best known hit in America was his 1962 pop hit "I Can't Stop Loving You", which spent five weeks at #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 charts.
One of the few black performers to have a #1 song on Billboard magazine's country charts, a 1985 duet with Willie Nelson called "Seven Spanish Angels".
Charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
24 November 2003 - Underwent hip replacement surgery in Los Angeles.
He struggled with a heroin addiction for nearly 20 years before quitting cold turkey in 1965 after an arrest at the Boston airport.
Dropped the "Robinson" from his name as a young performer to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.
Had a hip replacement in the fall of 2003 in which he had to cancel his very first concert in 53 years of performing on the road.
Had three #1 pop hits with "Georgia On My Mind" (1960), "Hit the Road Jack" (1961) and "I Can't Stop Loving You" (1962).
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 as part of the institution's inaugural 10-member class that included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis. He also received the Recording Academy's lifetime achievement award at the 1987 Grammy Awards.
Despite his blindness, he was a chess-playing fanatic who was known to set up games between sets and concerts.
He inspired many blind musicians to pursue careers, such as Ronnie Milsap and Terri Gibbs.
He was voted the 10th Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Artist of all time by Rolling Stone.
Became the big winner at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, receiving eight Grammy Awards for his final album, "Genius Loves Company" (which won for Album of the Year), and his song "Here We Go Again", featuring Norah Jones (which won Record of the Year).
Had 12 children: Ray Charles Robinson Jr., David Robinson, Robert Robinson (all with Della Bea Robinson), Charles Wayne Hendricks (with Margie Hendricks, one of The Raelettes), Reatha Butler, Alexandra Bertrand (daughter of Mary-Chantal Bertrand), Robyn Moffett (daughter of Gloria Moffett), Evelyn Robinson (daughter of Louise Mitchell), Raenee Robinson (daughter of Mae Mosely Lyles), Sheila Robinson (daughter of Sandra Jean Betts), Vincent Kotchounian (son of 'Arlette Kotchounian') and Ryan Corey Robinson den Bok (son of Mary Anne den Bok).
He was a longtime supporter of Israel, and was named "Man of the Year" by the B'nai Brith in 1976.
Legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to award him the Congressional Gold Medal. (February 2005)
Was an admirer of singer Nat 'King' Cole and even imitated his style in his early performances, which guaranteed him continued work before perfecting his own style.
He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 1993 by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C.
One of the first singers to own his own master recordings.
Was the first artist to combine both R&B and Gospel together.
Not to be confused with the choral director, Ray Charles, of The Ray Charles Singers on "Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall" (1948) (1955-1963). Ray actually performed, with The Ray Charles Singers as his chorus, along with "The Raelettes", on three episodes of "The Perry Como Show" from 1958-1961. "What I Say" was one of the songs performed. and that 1961 performance can be seen on the US Public Television Special, "Aretha Franklin Presents Soul Rewind" (2010) (TV).
In 1981, he was heavily criticized for touring South Africa.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 78-80. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
Voted the second greatest singer of the rock era in a Rolling Stone magazine poll in 2008.
He was awarded the Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6777 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Founded Tangerine Records (1962-73).
I never considered myself part of rock 'n' roll. My stuff was more adult. It was more difficult for teenagers to relate to; my stuff was filled with more despair than anything you'd associate with rock 'n' roll. Since I couldn't see people dancing, I didn't write jitterbugs or twists. I wrote rhythms that moved me. My style required pure heart singing.
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