- NAME: Ray Charles
- OCCUPATION: Songwriter, Pianist, Singer
- BIRTH DATE: September 23, 1930
- DEATH DATE: June 10, 2004
- EDUCATION: Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Albany, Georgia
- PLACE OF DEATH: Beverly Hills, California
- AKA: Ray Charles
- Full Name: Ray Charles Robinson
- Nickname: "The Genius"
- Nickname: "Father of Soul"
Best Known For
Ray Charles was a pioneer of soul music, integrating R&B, gospel, pop and country to creat hits like "Unchain My Heart," "Hit the Road Jack" and "Georgia on My Mind." A blind genius, he is considered one of the greatest artists of all time.
Ray Charles - Mini Biography (4:13)
Watch a short video about Ray Charles and learn about how he soared to the top of the music charts, only to hit rock bottom from drug abuse, and back up again.
Ray Charles was one of America's greatest musicians, pioneering the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm & blues, gospel and blues.
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Born in Georgia in 1930, Ray Charles was a legendary musician who pioneered the genre of soul music during the 1950s. Often called the "Father of Soul," Charles combined blues, gospel and jazz to create groundbreaking hits such as "Unchain My Heart," "Hit the Road Jack" and "Georgia on My Mind." He died in 2004, leaving a lasting impression on contemporary music.
"I can't retire from music any more than I can retire from my liver. You'd have to remove the music from me surgically—like you were taking out my appendix."
"There will never be another musician who did as much to break down the perceived walls of musical genres. Ray used to say that if he had a dime, he would give me a nickel. Well, I would give that nickel back to have him still be here with us, but I know that heaven has become a much better place with him in it."
Ray Charles Robinson was born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. His father, a mechanic, and his mother, a sharecropper, moved the family to Florida when he was an infant. One of the most traumatic events of his childhood was witnessing the drowning death of his younger brother.
Soon after his brother's death, Charles gradually began to lose his sight. He was blind by the age of 7, and his mother sent him to a state-sponsored school, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida—where he learned to read, write and arrange music in Braille. He also learned to play piano, organ, sax, clarinet and trumpet. The breadth of his musical interests ranged widely, from gospel to country, to blues.
Charles's mother died when he was 15, and for a year he toured on the "Chitlin' Circuit" in the South. While on the road, he picked up a love for heroin.
At the of age 16, Charles moved to Seattle. There, he met a young Quincy Jones, a friend and collaborator he would keep for the rest of his life. Charles performed with the McSon Trio in 1940s. His early playing style closely resembled the work of his two major influences—Charles Brown and Nat King Cole. Charles later developed his distinctive sound.
In 1949, he released his first single, "Confession Blues," with the Maxin Trio. The song did well on the R&B charts. More success on the R&B charts followed with "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" and "Kissa Me Baby." By 1953, Charles landed a deal with Atlantic Records. He celebrated his first R&B hit single with the label, "Mess Around."
A year later, Charles's now classic song, "I Got a Woman," reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. The song reflected an advance in his musical style. He was no longer a Nat King Cole imitator. His fusion of gospel and R&B helped to create a new musical genre known as soul. By the late 1950s, Charles began entertaining the world of jazz, cutting records with members of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Fellow musicians began to call Charles "The Genius," an appropriate title for the ramblin' musician, who never worked in just one style, but blended and beautified all that he touched (he also earned the nickname "Father of Soul"). Charles's biggest success was perhaps his ability to cross over into pop music too, reaching No. 6 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart with his hit "What'd I Say."
The year 1960 brought Charles his first Grammy Award for "Georgia on My Mind," followed by another Grammy for the single "Hit the Road, Jack." For his day, he maintained a rare level of creative control over his own music.
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