Charles, Ray
Ray Charles. (Image by Alan Light, CC)

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Charles, Ray 1930–

Ray Charles 1930

Vocalist, musician, composer, arranger

At a Glance

Rays Early Days

On The Road

Atlantic Records

A New Direction

The Legend Lives On

Selected discography

Sources

Above all his many talents is the innate ability of Ray Charles to interpret and sing songs in such a way as to fill the words from the depths of his own heart, carrying this emotion to the listener. As quoted in author Joe Goldbergs Jazz Masters of the 50s, Ray says, I sing the songs for what they mean to me. However, his highly regarded singing has tended to obscure his other considerable accomplishments as a blues pianist, band leader, composer, and arranger. Jazz musicians speak of a quality called the cry, a quality that echoes the blues no matter what is being played. The cry of blues permeates every Charles performance, said Goldberg.

Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930, son of Bailey and Aretha Robinson. Ray is the father of nine children, three by his former wife DellaRay, Jr., David, and Robert. Ray and his beloved mother Aretha moved to Greenville, Florida when Ray was six-months-old. Rays absent father, Bailey Robinson, was a migrant railroad worker who Ray never knew. Times were tough for Ray, his younger brother George, and Rays mother during their Greenville years. In his autobiography entitled, Brother Ray, Ray recalled that Even compared to the other blacks in Greenville, we were at the bottom of the ladder. Tragically, at the age of five-years-old, young Ray helplessly watched as his four-year-old brother George drowned in a washtub from which Ray was unable to pull him out. Thereafter, Rays eyesight worsened considerably from glaucoma, leaving Ray completely blind by the age of seven. Ray then attended a state school in St. Augustine for the deaf and blind.

Despite being born into extreme poverty, Ray has created a prolific body of work spanning five decades. Proficient in numerous styles, Rays recordings are rich in blues, jazz, and country, and he has been simultaneously thought of as the best rock n roll singer, best jazz singer, and best pop singer, at times second only to Sinatra. Possessed of a sound which remains widely imitated by prominent artists and having been honored with numerous awards during his career, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, it is Rays title as Father of Soul Music, which seems to stick with him. However, Ray does not care to be pigeonholed into any one category. When told that he has successfully avoided all attempts to be categorized, he replies in Goldbergs

At a Glance

Born Ray Charles Robinson, September 23, 1930, Albany, GA, son of Bailey and Aretha Robinson; married 23 years and divorced from Della; their children- Ray, Jr., David, and Robert. Father of six other children. Raised in Greenville, FL and began playing piano as a small child. Lost sight at age seven from glaucoma. Learned classical piano while attending school for deaf and blind in St. Augustine, FL.

Career: Began touring with dance bands at age 15; road job with Lowell Fulsom led to a booking at Harlems Appollo Theatre; formed Swing-time Trio in Seattle; recording artist for Atlantic Records 1952-59; ABC-Paramount, 1959-65; and his own labels Tangerine Records 1965-73, Crossover Records Co., 1973-. Sang in We Are the World in 1985. Numerous TV and concert appearances including, Ray Charles, 50 Years in Music and Uh-Huh advertising for Pepsi-Cola in 1991, 1992. Compilations include The Ray Charles Story (1962); A Man and His Soul (1967); 25th Anniversary in Show Business Salute to Ray Charles (1971); The Right Time (1987); The Collection (1990, ABC recordings); The Birth of Soul (1991); The Living Legend (1993). Films include Blues For Lovers a.k.a. Ballad in Blue (1964) and The Blues Brothers (1980).

Selected awards: Bronze medallion, French Republic; Image award, NAACP; Named#1 malesinger, 16th Intl. Jazz Critics Poll, 1968; inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; 10 Grammy awards, including Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, 1987; Playboy Jazz and Pop Hall of Fame; Songwriters Hall of Fame; honorary lifetime chairman of Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame; and Leadership award, NAFEO, 1991. Selected gold records include: Ray Charles Greatest Hits, 1962; Modern Sound in Country and Western Music, Vol 1 and Vol. 2, 1962, 1963; Ray Charles: A Man and His Soul, 1967.

Addresses: Ray Charles Entertainment, 2107 W. Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90018.

book, I consider that a compliment. I dont want to be branded. I dont want the rhythm-and-blues brand, or the pop brand, or any other. Thats why I try all these different things.... I know not everybody likes everything I do. Some like one thing, and some another. But I try to please everybody, while doing what I want. Im an entertainer. Ray is possessed of a quick, curious mind, a wide grasp of current affairs, and a ready laugh. Ray feels that he has been blessed with regard to his talent, and there are many who would agree with him.

Rays Early Days

While in St. Augustine, Ray learned to read, compose, and write music in braille, as well as to play the clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, and keyboards. Though Ray became familiar with classical music there, it was at the upright piano of Wylie Pittman, a local grocer, where Ray first experienced playing the piano. Robert Palmer writes that Ray fondly recalls visiting Wylies after school, where ... hed let me sit on the piano stool or in the chair next to him and bang on the piano with him. Ray credits four pianists as influencing him the most as a child: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, King Cole, and Oscar Peterson. Rays excellence as a blues pianist is evident on his instrumental albums, including The Great Ray Charles. Long-time friend, arranger Quincy Jones, credits Rays piano abilities as a major factor in the success of Rays recordings. Young Ray possessed a natural talent for music and, by age twelve, was reportedly able to arrange and score all parts of big band or orchestral music. As a child, Ray listened to a wide variety of blues and swing along with the weekly Grand Ole Opry and gospel music of his Baptist church. All of this can account for Rays eclectic, original style.

On The Road

While in St. Augustines at age 15, Ray learned of his mothers death. Rays father had also died several years earlier. With no immediate family left, Ray moved to Jacksonville, Florida in search of work. Ray recalled those days as being rough times, however, he felt that his youth provided him with a certain resilience. Soon, Ray was playing in numerous small bands across the state of Florida. By 1948, now 18-years-old, Ray was a seasoned road musician. Around the same time, however, Ray was well acquainted with heroin use, which he continued using for many years to come. However, the ambitious Ray was determined to make his way in music and he purchased an early wire recorder, recording some demo tapes in Tampa, Florida.

Once he had saved around $600 from performances, Ray travelled to the West Coast, settling for a time in Seattle. Out west, he met Quincy Jones and Bumps Blackwell, producer of the original Little Richard hits. Ray also successfully assembled a trio of guitar, bass, and piano, dropping his last name Robinson so as not to be confused with then popular boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson. Rays trio came to the attention of Jack Lauderdale of Downbeat and later Swingtime records. By 1950, Ray had moved to Los Angeles and was cutting records for Swingtime. One of Rays daughters was also born during this year by a woman named Louise.

In 1951, Ray recorded a hit popular with the black community known as Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand which reached the Top 10 on the rhythm and blues charts. This, along with other Swingtime singles, were in the style of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown, as young Ray had not yet mastered his own style. He tried to sound like them in order to get work, especially club work.

Atlantic Records

During this same period, Ray toured with blues singer Lowell Fulsom and became the pianist for Fulsoms band. Near the end of 1951, Swingtime records opted to drop Ray and Atlantic Records partners Ahmet Ertegun, Herb Abramson, and Jerry Wexler snatched him up without ever having seen him, paying around $2,500 for his contract. For his beginning sessions with Atlantic, Ray was teamed with an extraordinarily talented group of New York studio players under the direction of Jesse Stone including guitarist Mickey Baker, drummer Connie Kay, and bassist Lloyd Trotman. Apparently Jesse Stone was dissatisfied with his inability to take direction, learning some years later that Ray was better at giving, rather than receiving, direction. Nonetheless, a compromise between his individualism and the commercial rhythm and blues marketplace provided Ray with an Atlantic hit, a year and a half after signing with them. Despite his temperament, the Atlantic partners never treated Ray as just another artist. To them, he was a musical genius with a lot more to offer than writing and singing songs.

Ray worked out of New Orleans for much of 1953, the final period of his formative years. However, the Louisiana rhythm had less affect on his overall work than some have speculated. By this time, Ray was well on his way to a comfortable, innovative style. Actually, his mid-fifties band arrangements more closely resembled the style of James Brown than New Orleans rhythm and blues. Rays original style also emerged as a result of his work with Guitar Slim, whose crude gospel blues greatly influenced him. He even arranged Slims million-selling single, Things That I Used To Do. Early recordings are based on blues and gospel forms, including the soulful, A Fool For You, What Would I Do Without You?, Its Allright, and Drown In My Own Tears. During this time, Ray divorced his wife of approximately 16 months, a beautician named Eileen, and subsequently remarried Della.

In the fall of 1954, Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records traveled to Atlanta to hear Rays latest batch of songs which differed radically from his expert imitations of Nat King Cole, Charles Brown, and Louis Jordan of the previous six years. Ray had learned to unite gospel and blues music together for the incredible birth of soul music. Once his new music caught on, he became known as The Genius and The Bishop. From New Orleans, Ray moved on to Dallas, where he put together his first true band, with bandleader Renald Richard. The band began performing with Ruth Brown from El Paso throughout Florida. During this time, saxophonist David (Fathead) Newman joined the band, and Ray and Richard developed the song, I Got A Woman, which marked the turning point in his music from rhythm and blues to soul, exuding the fervor of the Baptist Church. In November of 1954 Charles extended an invitation to Atlantic executives Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler which resulted in a meeting at the Peacock Club in Atlanta. It was there that Wexler first realized the overall change in Rays music. However, Nesuhi Ertegun, Ahmets brother, acknowledged that Rays style was not necessarily unique, as noted by author Robert Palmer, Ray was not the first to do this, combine gospel and blues. He is the best of a long tradition, but there were people singing this way twenty years ago. But Ray was able to bring so much of his own to it.

Early Atlantic recordings were made with Ray while he performed in Atlanta, Florida, and New York. Nesuhi Ertegun viewed this as an advantage for recording purposes, as it gave Ray a chance to work out his arrangements on the road. Upon his return to Atlanta, Wexler and Ertegun managed to produce his first number one hit album, I Got a Woman, a confirmation of the greatness of Ray Charles. The release of Rays next single, I Got A Woman, also soared to number one on the rhythm and blues charts. The extraordinary success of his new style, both commercially and artistically, spurred similar hit songs to follow, including, This Little Girl of Mine (1955), Talkin Bout You (1957), and Dont Let The Sun Catch You Crying (1959), whose call-and-response style was fully realized with Rays mega-hit, Whatd I Say? in 1959. This song remains a favorite closing number among performing soul singers worldwide.

Also during this period Americas white youth discovered recordings by black artists. Elvis Presley had helped to erode racial barriers and, in fact, was somewhat of a Ray Charles fan. However, despite the fact that Atlantic executives wished to pursue sales in the white pop marketplace, Ray refused to compromise his musical style with the simpler beat, adolescent lyrics, and smoother singing. He continued on with his soulful music, and his recordings continued to sell, albeit largely among the black community. Atlantic continued to support Ray in his endeavors, hence, his soul music was undiluted and some of his landmark songs from this time were even more soulful than his earlier recordings, including Come Back Baby, Drown In My Own Tears, and Hallelujah I Love Her So.

Interestingly enough, Ray does not see his pivotal role in the creation of soul music. He said, When people ask me what I think about soul music.... I think all these terms are names that the media give the music in order to try to describe what they mean. I dont know the difference between rhythm and blues, soul music, and the black version of disco; the rhythm patterns are the same, recalled Robert Palmer. Ray also shied away from taking credit for the creation of rock and roll, feeling that his music was more adult and filled with despair, considering rhythm and blues as genuine down-to-earth Negro music. Of all his tunes from the mid-fifties, only Swanee River Rock remotely resembles rock and roll, and it became Rays first significant pop hit, reaching number 34 on the Billboard chart. In Jazz Masters of the 50s, Ray speaks of his work in this way, The things I write and sing about concern the general Joe and his general problems. There are four basic things: love, somebody runnin his mouth too much, having fun, and jobs are hard to get.... When I put myself in the place of the... general Joe Im singing about,... I sing with all the feeling I can put into it, so that I can feel it myself.

Luckily for Ray his band was flexible, extemporaneous, and talented enough to accommodate his sense of musical perfection. Until 1959, Rays band had two saxophonists, with him playing a third, alto sax. He realized a stroke of luck when, around this time, baritone saxophonist Leroy Hog Cooper joined the band. The band now consisted of Hank Crawford on alto, Newman on tenor, and Cooper on baritone sax. There were also two trumpeters, Joe Bridgewater and Marcus Belgrave, with William Peoples as the primary drummer and Roosevelt Sheffield as bassist. Between 1957 and 1959, with the expansion of his band, Ray delved into greater musical forays, including an extended interest in country and western music. From here, he recruited three female singers to contrast against his voice, reminiscent of traditional call-and-response gospel singing. The female singers included Mary Ann Fisher, Darlene McRae, and Margie Hendrix. Thereafter, the chorus became known as the Raeletts. The hit single, What Kind of Man Are You is a splendid example of the intense, spiritual feel provided to Rays music with the addition of the Raeletts. His musical scores continued to expand and I Want A Little Girl, swing oriented, Yes Indeed, with jazz elements, and I Had A Dream with rich gospel sounds, all came out of this time. Whatd I Say? his first million-seller song, was one of the finest renderings of the call-and-response pattern between Ray and his new girls. The suggestion of sex in this particular song, however, resulted in its first being played only by black radio stations until it was covered by Elvis Presley, at which time the white radio stations also picked it up.

Despite his past inconsistencies in terms of concert arrival times, drug abuse, and temperamental ways, Ray has always been a superb musician and gracious performer who captivates his audience. Fortunately, Atlantic records took advantage of Rays live audience appeal, recording two in-person appearances, Ray Charles at Newport and Ray Charles In Person, where the live vocals take on a quality not easily captured in the studio. It was the Atlantic executives who first recognized Ray as a genius, not hesitating to call him such, as they considered Rays whole approach to music as very different from anybody elses. Despite his denial of same, he pioneered a style of music during the 1950s like no other up to that time. During his final days with Atlantic, Ray experimented musically with a passion, leaving Atlantic with his final recording, The Genius of Ray Charles which decidedly freed him from the stereotype of rock n roll singer and sealing him firmly as Mr. Soul to use one artists words. Ray had a large hand in the arrangement of this album, resulting in three triumphant singles, Dont Let The Sun Catch You Cryin, Am I Blue, and Come Rain or Come Shine. When Rays Atlantic contract expired in late 1959, ABC-Paramount made him a rare and generous offer and he moved on.

A New Direction

In 1961 Ray and Betty Carter collaborated on an album that produced the hit, Baby Its Cold Outside. While Atlantic felt a terrible loss when Charles left, ABC was well satisfied as Ray churned out one mega-hit after another, including, Georgia on My Mind (1960) and Hit The Road Jack in 1961, thereby establishing himself as an international artist. In 1962, Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music was released to massive sales. A single from this album, I Cant Stop Loving You, sold three million copies. Though Rays crossover into country music caused significant controversy, the popularity of his recording spawned a second volume under the same name with several more hits. He did not become mainstreamed like most black country artists, but rather, retained his gospel-blues sound. Ray changed stylistically somewhat, though, in 1961, as he moved from a blues shouter to a crooner of soul, achieving a phenomenal sweep of four Grammy awards on April 21, 1961 for Best Vocal Performer (male); Best Single (Georgia on My Mind); Best Album (The Genius of Ray Charles); and Best Song (Let the Good Times Roll).

While Ray was an unquestioned success, he was also a long-term drug user. On November 14, 1961, Ray was arrested on a narcotics charge in an Indiana hotel room, where he awaited to perform. The detectives seized heroin, marijuana, and other items. Ray, then 31-years-old, stated that he had been a drug addict since the age of 16. While the case was dismissed because of the manner in which the evidence was obtained, his situation did not improve until a few years later. Individuals who cared for Ray, such as Quincy Jones and Reverend Henry Griffin, felt that those around Ray were responsible for his drug use, as he was unable to obtain or administer drugs to himself, given his blindness. By 1964 Rays drug addiction caught up with him and he was arrested for possession of marijuana and heroin. Following a self-imposed stay at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California, where he kicked his drug habit in 96 hours, Ray received five years probation. From the mid-60s on, he stuck to relatively popular tunes, though there were exceptions, including, I Dont Need No Doctor, Lets Go Get Stoned, and the release of his first album since kicking his heroin habit, the impassioned Cryin Time.

The Legend Lives On

By the late 1970s Rays 20-year marriage to Della Robinson ended. His lengthy absences and womanizing were contributing factors to the breakdown of the marriage. Rays work in the 1980s included more country music as well as a cameo appearance in the film, The Blues Brothers. However, it is his powerful performance on the USA for Africa release We Are the World in 1985 which fans recall most. Come the 1990s, Ray is still going strong, continuing with live performances, accompanied by his 17-piece band and the now five members of the Raeletts. Rays continual rearrangements of old favorites such as I Feel So Bad and Just for a Thrill, cement his reputation as The Genius of Soul. Ray was selected by Pepsi-Cola to act as their spokes-singer with a catchy Uh-Huh theme that resulted in one of the most likeable and memorable advertisement campaigns of 1991. Additionally, he was featured on public televisions American Masters on January 3, 1992 in Ray Charles: The Genius of Soul In this documentary, written, directed, and narrated by Yvonne Smith, Ray is touted as a national treasure. The documentary celebrated the his legendary career through his battles with drugs, notorious pursuit of women, and marriage of 23 years. Through it all, Ray is a survivor. The documentary showed him as the driven, complicated, exceptionally talented individual and musician which he remains.

Rays My World, released in 1993 by Warner Brothers, was his first major encounter with programmed percussion, a great difference for the artist so used to fine tuning his own musicians. Nonetheless, My World proved to be one of Rays finest releases in years, with a return to his earlier form. At 62 years of age, he continued to transform ordinary songs with powerful ingenuity. Ray can change the harmony, phrasing, lyrics, tempo, or whatever works for him, while performing a song, causing his tunes to touch the listeners heart. On October 7, 1993, President Clinton honored 18 distinguished Americans, including Ray Charles, with a silver medal for contributions to our nations cultural life. As quoted in The New York Times, Clinton recognized Ray and others with these words, These extraordinary individuals have made a gift to American cultural life that is beyond measure. In 1995, at age 64, Ray performed at the Avery Fisher Hall as part of the JVC Jazz Festival and showed that he was able to stir emotion within his audience, this time through the famous, Georgia on My Mind. Ray remains one of Americas greatest singers and The New York Times reports that, Behind his comedy, there [is] melancholy; behind the melancholy, resilience. Author Goldberg shares Rays own words, All music is related... if you feel and believe in your music, that conviction carries over to the public. You can create a very strong emotional bond between yourself and your listener that way. At 66 years of age, Ray Charles endures.

Selected discography

Hallelujah I Love Her So aka Ray Charles (Atlantic)

Soul Brothers (Atlantic)

Ray Charles at Newport (Atlantic)

Yes Indeed (Atlantic)

Ray Charles (Hollywood)

The Fabulous Ray Charles (Hollywood)

Whatdl Say (Atlantic)

The Genius of Ray Charles (Atlantic)

Ray Charles in Person (Atlantic)

Genius Hits the Road (ABC-Paramount)

The Genius After Hours (ABC-Paramount)

The Genius Sings the Blues (Atlantic)

Soul Meeting (Atlantic)

Do The Twist With Ray Charles (Atlantic)

Dedicated To You (ABC-Paramount)

Genius + Soul = Jazz (Atlantic)

Modern Sounds in Country and Western (ABC-Paramount)

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Vol. 2 (ABC-Paramount)

Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul (ABC-Paramount)

Sweet and Sour Tears (ABC-Paramount)

Have A Smile With Me (ABC-Paramount)

Live In Concert (ABC-Paramount)

Country and Western Meets Rhythm and Blues aka Together Again (ABC-Paramount)

Cryin Time (ABC-Paramount)

Rays Moods (ABC-Paramount)

A Portrait of Ray (ABC/TRC)

Im All Yours Baby! (ABC/TRC)

Doin His Thing (ABC/TRC)

The Birth of Soul (Atlantic)

My World (Warner)

Sources

Books

The African American Almanac, 6th edition. Gale Research, 1994, 7th edition, 1995.

Goldberg, Joe. Jazz Masters of the Fifties. The MacMillan Co.; New York, 1965.

The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Vol. 1, edited by Colin Larkin. Stockton Press, New York, 1995.

Palmer, Robert. The Birth of Soul (discography booklet insert). Atlantic Records, New York, 1991.

The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. Edited by Jon Pereles and Patricia Romanowski. Rolling Stone Press: New York, 1983.

White, Timothy. Rock Lives. Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1990. pp. 27-31.

Periodicals

New York Times, Jan 3, 1992, p. B13; February 14, 1992, p. D19; August 4, 1993, p. C17; October 10, 1993, p. C3; June 26, 1995, p. C11.

Washington Post, August 22, 1991, p. D3; November 8, 1991, p. WW20; March 3, 1996, p. B2; April 4, 1993, p. D7.

Marilyn Williams

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Charles, Ray

Ray Charles

1930-2004

Musician, singer, composer, arranger

Above all his many talents, singing great Ray Charles had the ability to interpret and sing songs in such a way as to fill the words from the depths of his own heart, carrying this emotion to the listener. "I sing the songs for what they mean to me," Charles was quoted in Joe Goldberg's Jazz Masters of the Fifties. However, his highly regarded singing long tended to obscure his other considerable accomplishments as a blues pianist, band leader, composer, and arranger. "Jazz musicians speak of a quality called 'the cry,' a quality that echoes the blues no matter what is being played. The cry of blues permeates every Charles performance," wrote Goldberg.

Despite being born into extreme poverty, Ray Charles created a prolific body of work spanning five decades. Proficient in numerous styles, Ray's recordings are rich in blues, jazz, and country, and he was often spoken of as the nation's best rock n' roll singer, best jazz singer, and best pop singer, his preeminence challenged only by Frank Sinatra. Frequently imitated, and honored with countless awards during his career, Charles is best known as the "Father of Soul Music." Charles himself never cared to be pigeonholed into any one category. When told that he had successfully avoided all attempts to be categorized, he replied in Goldberg's book: "I consider that a compliment. I don't want to be branded. I don't want the rhythm-and-blues brand, or the pop brand, or any other. That's why I try all these different things. I know not everybody likes everything I do. Some like one thing, and some another. But I try to please everybody, while doing what I want. I'm an entertainer."

Lost His Sight at an Early Age

Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia, on September 23, 1930. Charles's absent father, Bailey Robinson, was a migrant railroad worker who never knew his son. Charles and his beloved mother Aretha moved to Greenville, Florida, when Charles was six months old. Times were tough for the young family. In his autobiography, Brother Ray, Charles recalled that "Even compared to the other blacks in Greenville, we were at the bottom of the ladder." Tragically, at the age of five, young Ray helplessly watched as his four-year-old brother George drowned in a washtub. Thereafter, Charles's eyesight worsened considerably from glaucoma, leaving him completely blind by the age of seven. Charles then attended a state school in St. Augustine for the deaf and blind.

While in St. Augustine, Charles learned to read, compose, and write music in braille, as well as to play the clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, and keyboards. Though Charles became familiar with classical music there, it was at the upright piano of Wylie Pittman, a local grocer, where Charles first experienced playing the piano. Robert Palmer writes that Charles fondly recalls visiting Wylie's after school, where " he'd let me sit on the piano stool or in the chair next to him and bang on the piano with him." Charles credits four pianists as influencing him the most as a child: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, King Cole, and Oscar Peterson. Ray's excellence as a blues pianist is evident on his instrumental albums, including The Great Ray Charles. Arranger Quincy Jones credits Chalres's piano abilities as a major factor in the success of his recordings. Young Charles possessed a natural talent for music and, by age twelve, was reportedly able to arrange and score all parts of big band or orchestral music. As a child, Charles listened to a wide variety of blues and swing along with the weekly Grand Ole Opry and gospel music of his Baptist church.

While in St. Augustine at age 15, Charles learned of his mother's death. Ray's father had also died several years earlier. With no immediate family left, Charles moved to Jacksonville, Florida, in search of work. Charles recalled those days as being rough times, however, he felt that his youth provided him with a certain resilience. Soon, Charles was playing in numerous small bands across the state of Florida. By 1948, now 18 years old, Charles was a seasoned road musician. By this time, however, Charles had become acquainted with heroin, which he continued using for many years to come. However, the ambitious Charles was determined to make his way in music and he purchased an early wire recorder, recording some demo tapes in Tampa, Florida.

Seasoned on the Road

Once he had saved around $600 from performances, Charles traveled to the West Coast, settling for a time in Seattle. Out west, Charles met Quincy Jones and Bumps Blackwell, producer of the original Little Richard hits. Charles also successfully assembled a trio of guitar, bass, and piano, dropping his last name Robinson so as not to be confused with then popular boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson. Charles's trio came to the attention of Jack Lauderdale of Downbeat and later Swing-time records. By 1950, Charles had moved to Los Angeles and was cutting records for Swingtime. One of Charles's daughters was also born during this year by a woman named Louise. (He would ultimately father twelve children.)

In 1951, Charles recorded a hit popular with the black community known as "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand," which reached the Top 10 on the rhythm-and-blues charts. This, along with other Swingtime singles, were in the style of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown, as young Charles had not yet mastered his own style. Charles tried to sound like them in order to get work, especially club work.

During this same period, Charles toured with blues singer Lowell Fulsom and became the pianist for Fulsom's band. Near the end of 1951, Swingtime records opted to drop Charles, and Atlantic Records partners Ahmet Ertegun, Herb Abramson, and Jerry Wexler snatched Charles up without ever having seen him, paying around $2,500 for his contract. For his beginning sessions with Atlantic, Charles was teamed with an extraordinarily talented group of New York studio players under the direction of Jesse Stone, including guitarist Mickey Baker, drummer Connie Kay, and bassist Lloyd Trotman. For Atlantic, Charles was never considered as just another artist. To them, Charles was a musical genius with a lot more to offer than writing and singing songs.

At a Glance

Born Ray Charles Robinson on September 23, 1930, in Albany, GA; died June 10, 2004, in Beverly Hills, CA; son of Bailey and Aretha Robinson; married twice, to Eileen and Della; children: twelve children.

Career: Recording artist, 1956-2004. Began touring with dance bands at age 15; recording artist, for Atlantic Records, 1952-59, ABC-Paramount, 1959-65, and his own labels, Tangerine Records 1965-73, and Crossover Records Co., 1973-2004.

Selected Awards: 16th International Jazz Critics Poll, named #1 male singer, 1968; NAACP, Image Award, 1983; Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductee, 1986; Kennedy Center Honors recipient, 1986; 12 Grammy awards, including Lifetime Achievement Award, 1987; National Medal of Arts, 1993; Ebony magazine, Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994.

Charles worked out of New Orleans for much of 1953, the final period of his formative years. However, the Louisiana rhythm had less effect on his overall work than some have speculated. By this time, Charles was well on his way to a comfortable, innovative style. Actually, his mid-fifties band arrangements more closely resembled the style of James Brown than New Orleans rhythm-and-blues. Charles's original style also emerged as a result of his work with "Guitar Slim," whose crude gospel blues greatly influenced him. Charles even arranged Slim's million-selling single, "Things That I Used to Do." Early recordings are based on blues and gospel forms, including the soulful, "A Fool For You," "What Would I Do Without You?," "It's Allright," and "Drown In My Own Tears." During this time, Charles divorced his wife of approximately 16 months, a beautician named Eileen, and subsequently remarried a woman by the name of Della.

Developed Unique Sound

By 1954, Charles began to create songs which differed radically from his expert imitations of Nat King Cole, Charles Brown, and Louis Jordan. Charles united gospel and blues music to help form a sound known as soul music. Once Charles's new music caught on, he became known as "The Genius" and "The Bishop." From New Orleans, Charles moved on to Dallas, where he put together his first true band, with bandleader Renald Richard. The band began performing with Ruth Brown from El Paso throughout Florida. During this time, saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman joined the band, and Charles and Richard developed the song, "I Got a Woman," which marked the turning point in Charles's music from rhythm-and-blues to soul, exuding the fervor of the Baptist Church. In November of 1954 Charles extended an invitation to Atlantic executives Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler to come hear his new music at the Peacock Club in Atlanta. It was there that Wexler first realized the overall change in Charles's music. However, Nesuhi Ertegun, Ahmet's brother, acknowledged that Charles's style was not necessarily unique, as noted by author Robert Palmer, "Ray was not the first to do this, combine gospel and blues. He is the best of a long tradition, but there were people singing this way twenty years ago. But Ray was able to bring so much of his own to it."

Early Atlantic recordings were made with Charles while he performed in Atlanta, Florida, and New York. Nesuhi Ertegun viewed this as an advantage for recording purposes, as it gave Charles a chance to work out his arrangements on the road. Upon Charles's return to Atlanta, Wexler and Ertegun managed to produce his first number one hit album, Ray Charles, a confirmation of the greatness of Ray Charles. The single "I Got a Woman" also soared to number one on the rhythm-and-blues charts. The extraordinary success of his new style, both commercially and artistically, spurred similar hit songs to follow, including, "This Little Girl of Mine" (1955), "Talkin' 'Bout You" (1957), and "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" (1959), whose call-and-response style was fully realized with Charles's mega-hit, "What'd I Say?" in 1959. This song remains a favorite closing number among performing soul singers worldwide.

It was during this period that America's white youth discovered recordings by black artists. Elvis Presley had helped to erode racial barriers and, in fact, was somewhat of a Ray Charles fan. However, despite the fact that Atlantic executives wished to pursue sales in the white pop marketplace, Charles refused to compromise his musical style with the simpler beat, adolescent lyrics, and smoother singing. Charles continued with his soulful music, and his recordings continued to sell, albeit largely among the black community. Atlantic continued to support Charles in his endeavors, hence, his soul music was undiluted and some of his landmark songs from this time were even more soulful than his earlier recordings, including "Come Back Baby," "Drown In My Own Tears," and "Hallelujah I Love Her So."

Became "Father of Soul"

Despite his early success in soul music, Charles never fully accepted the accolade of "father of soul." Said Charles to Robert Palmer: "When people ask me what I think about soul music. I think all these terms are names that the media give the music in order to try to describe what they mean. I don't know the difference between rhythm-and-blues, soul music, and the black version of disco; the rhythm patterns are the same." Charles also shied away from taking credit for the creation of rock 'n' roll, feeling that his music was more adult and filled with despair, considering rhythm-and-blues as genuine down-to-earth Negro music. Of all Charles's tunes from the mid-fifties, only "Swanee River Rock" remotely resembles rock 'n' roll, and it became Charles's first significant pop hit, reaching number 34 on the Billboard chart. In Jazz Masters of the Fifties, Charles spoke of his work in this way: "The things I write and sing about concern the general Joe and his general problems. There are four basic things: love, somebody runnin' his mouth too much, having fun, and jobs are hard to get. When I put myself in the place of thegeneral Joe I'm singing about, I sing with all the feeling I can put into it, so that I can feel it myself."

Luckily for Charles his band was both flexible and talented enough to accommodate his sense of musical perfection. Until 1959, Charles's band had two saxophonists, with Charles playing a third, alto sax. He realized a stroke of luck when, around this time, baritone saxophonist Leroy "Hog" Cooper joined the band. The band now consisted of Hank Crawford on alto, Newman on tenor, and Cooper on baritone sax. There were also two trumpeters, Joe Bridgewater and Marcus Belgrave, with William Peoples as the primary drummer and Roosevelt Sheffield as bassist. Between 1957 and 1959, with the expansion of his band, Charles delved into greater musical forays, including an extended interest in country and western music. From here, Charles recruited three female singers to contrast against his voice, reminiscent of traditional call-and-response gospel singing. The female singers included Mary Ann Fisher, Darlene McRae, and Margie Hendrix. Thereafter, the chorus became known as the "Raeletts." The hit single, "What Kind of Man Are You" is a splendid example of the intense, spiritual feel added by the Raeletts. "What'd I Say?" his first million-seller song, was one of the finest renderings of the call-and-response pattern between Ray Charles and his new girls. The suggestion of sex in this particular song, however, resulted in its first being played only by black radio stations until it was played by Elvis Presley, at which time the white radio stations also picked it up.

Despite past inconsistencies in terms of concert arrival times, drug abuse, and temperamental ways, Charles was always a superb musician and gracious performer who captivated his audience. Fortunately, Atlantic records took advantage of Charles's live audience appeal, recording two in-person appearances, Ray Charles at Newport and Ray Charles in Person, where the live vocals take on a quality not easily captured in the studio. It was the Atlantic executives who first recognized Charles as a genius, not hesitating to call him such, as they considered Charles's whole approach to music as very different from anybody else's. During his final days with Atlantic, Charles experimented with a passion, leaving Atlantic with his final recording, The Genius of Ray Charles, which freed him from the stereotype of rock 'n' roll singer and sealing him firmly as "Mr. Soul." Charles had a large hand in the arrangement of this album, resulting in three triumphant singles, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'," "Am I Blue," and "Come Rain or Come Shine." When Charles's Atlantic contract expired in late 1959, ABC-Paramount made him a rare and generous offer and he moved on.

Experienced Highs and Lows

In 1961 Ray Charles and Betty Carter collaborated on an album that produced the hit, "Baby It's Cold Outside." While Atlantic felt a terrible loss when Charles left, ABC was well satisfied as Charles churned out one mega-hit after another, including, "Georgia on My Mind" in 1960 and "Hit the Road Jack" in 1961, thereby establishing himself as an international artist. In 1962, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was released to massive sales. A single from this album, "I Can't Stop Loving You," sold three million copies. Though Charles's crossover into country music caused significant controversy, the popularity of his recording spawned a second volume under the same name with several more hits. Charles did not become mainstream, like most black country artists, but rather, retained his gospel-blues sound. Charles changed stylistically somewhat, though, in 1961, as he moved from a blues shouter to a crooner of soul, achieving a phenomenal sweep of four Grammy awards in 1961 for Best Vocal Performer (male), Best Single ("Georgia on My Mind"), Best Album (The Genius of Ray Charles ), and Best Song ("Let the Good Times Roll").

While Charles was an unquestioned musical success, he was also a long-term drug user. On November 14, 1961, Charles was arrested on a narcotics charge in an Indiana hotel room, where he waited to perform. The detectives seized heroin, marijuana, and other items. Charles, then 31 years old, stated that he had been a drug addict since the age of 16. While the case was dismissed because of the manner in which the evidence was obtained, Charles's situation did not improve until a few years later. Individuals who cared for Charles, such as Quincy Jones and Reverend Henry Griffin, felt that those around Charles were responsible for his drug use, as he was unable to obtain or administer drugs to himself, given his blindness. By 1964 Charles's drug addiction caught up with him and he was arrested for possession of marijuana and heroin. Following a self-imposed stay at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California, where he kicked his drug habit in 96 hours, Charles received five years probation. Charles responded to the saga of his drug abuse and reform with the songs "I Don't Need No Doctor," "Let's Go Get Stoned," and the release of his first album since kicking his heroin habit in 1966, the impassioned Crying Time.

From the late 1960s onward, Charles was no longer at the forefront of musical innovation, but that did not mean that he wasn't producing excellent music. His musical releases had shifted from strong gospel and R&B to softer pop, jazz, and country songs, and he recorded many popular songs. In 1973, Charles left ABC to form Crossover Records with Atlantic, his original company. He continued to influence other musicians such as Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Steve Winwood, and Joe Cocker, earning numerous awards and countless hits along the way. By the late 1970s, however, Charles's 20-year marriage to Della Robinson had ended. His lengthy absences and womanizing were contributing factors to the breakdown of the marriage.

A Lifetime of Achievement

From the 1970s onward, Ray Charles was a major celebrity, recording numerous albums, accumulating awards, and making several film and television appearances. He composed songs for films and television shows, including the theme song for the sitcom Three's Company and "Beers to You" for the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can. He appeared in the film The Blues Brothers as well as television's Moonlighting. In 1979, his rendition of "Georgia on My Mind" was officially named Georgia's state song. Charles was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 1988 he was awarded the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991 Charles's selection by Pepsi-Cola to act as their spokesman with a catchy "Uh-Huh" theme introduced his music to a new generation of listeners. In 1994, Charles was honored with a twelfth Grammy Award for his rendition of "Song for You." A 1997 collection of his hits, Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection, had critics and fans taking a trip down memory lane.

Charles continued to tour and to make music until the very end of his life. His last tour, in 2003, was cut short by illness, yet despite his illness he worked that year to produce an album of duets, Genius Loves Company, which featured Charles performing with such greats as Norah Jones, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, and B.B. King. When Charles died in his Beverly Hills, California, home on June 10, 2004, the music world mourned the passing of a legend. Performers and executives from across the industry celebrated his great career, and Newsweek commented that "Generations of singers have wanted to sound like him. No one comes close." A movie celebrating Charles's life, Ray, was already in the works, and its release in October of 2004 was greeted with critical accolades, especially the performance of Jamie Foxx in the lead role.

Selected discography

Ray Charles, Atlantic, 1957; re-released as Hallelujah, I Love Her So, WEA International, 2003.

What'd I Say, Atlantic, 1958.

Ray Charles at Newport, Atlantic, 1958.

What'd I Say, Atlantic, 1959.

The Genius of Ray Charles, Atlantic, 1959.

The Genius Sings the Blues, Atlantic, 1960.

Ray Charles in Person, Atlantic, 1960.

The Genius Hits the Road, ABC, 1960.

Genius + Soul = Jazz, ABC, 1961.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western, ABC, 1961.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Volume 2, ABC, 1962.

Crying Time, ABC, 1966.

Ray's Moods, ABC/Paramount, 1966.

Doing His Thing, ABC/Tangerine, 1969.

Volcanic Action of My Soul, ABC/Tangerine, 1971.

Brother Ray Is at It Again, Atlantic, 1980.

The Spirit of Christmas, Rhino, 1985.

My World, Warner Brothers, 1993.

Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection, Rhino, 1997.

Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again, Crossover, 2002.

Genius Loves Company, Concord/Hear Music, 2004.

Sources

Books

Charles, Ray, with David Ritz, Brother Ray: Ray Charles' Own Story, Dial Press, 1978, revised, 1992.

Goldberg, Joe, Jazz Masters of the Fifties, Macmillan, 1965.

Lydon, Michael, Ray Charles: Man and Music, Rout-ledge, 2004.

Palmer, Robert, The Birth of Soul (discography booklet insert), Atlantic Records, 1991.

White, Timothy, Rock Lives, Henry Holt, 1990.

Winski, Norman, Ray Charles, Melrose Square, 1994.

Periodicals

Newsweek, June 21, 2004.

Time, June 21, 2004.

On-line

Ray Charles, www.raycharles.com (November 4, 2004).

Marilyn Williams and

Tom Pendergast

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Charles, Ray

Ray Charles

Pianist, singer, songwriter

Singer and pianist Ray Charles's popularity, undiminished by his death in 2004, has spanned several generations. Toddlers may have seen Charles singing the alphabet with Elmo on Sesame Street. Teenagers may remember a catchy Pepsi commercial with Charles singing in his gravely voice, "You Got the Right One, Baby, Uh-huh!" Many adults, however, grew up listening to his blend of gospel, blues, and rock and roll songs that cemented Charles's name in the history books. He was one of the first soul stars, and became a major influence for the musicians who would follow him. He recorded all styles of music, from gospel to jazz to country western. A compilation of his work was released in 1997 titled Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection. He has won countless awards, including 12 Grammy Awards and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As he stated in his 1978 autobiography, Brother Ray, "Music is nothing separate from me. It is me."

Born in Albany, Georgia, in 1930, he was raised in Greenville, Florida, in extreme poverty. Ray Charles Robinson did not have an easy childhood. At five, he witnessed the death of his younger brother, George, who fell into a washtub in the backyard and drowned. Soon after, Charles contracted the degenerative eye disease glaucoma, which went untreated. He could look directly at the sun when he was four, and by age seven he was permanently blind. His father died when he was ten, and his mother died when he was 15, leaving Charles to fend for himself. Charles later told Jet that his mother had given him valuable advice before she died. "My mom would say, 'You might not be able to do things like a person who can see. But there are always two ways to do everything. You've just got to find the other way.'"

An inkling of the musical talent that Charles embodied revealed itself when he was three, when he sang with the Shiloh Baptist Church choir. At four, he sang in the Red Wing Cafe, where the owner let him play the piano. In 1937 Charles entered the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind as a charity student. He studied classical piano and clarinet, and learned to read and write music in Braille, and that gave him a greater understanding of music. He told Alan Paul of People, "Because in Braille music, you can only read so many bars at a time. You can't play it and see it at the same time, so your memory and understanding expand." When the death of Charles's mother left him an orphan at 15, he left school and joined a few dance bands in Jacksonville, Florida. He made enough money to help him relocate to Seattle, Washington, where he entered a talent contest the first night he was there. He was offered a job playing at the local Elks' Club, where he crooned Nat "King" Cole-style. He formed the McSon Trio, and planned his next move.

Genius Took Shape

After playing several clubs in Washington, Charles and his trio moved to Los Angeles and recorded their first single, "Confession Blues," which was written by Charles. In 1949 Charles worried that his original last name, Robinson, would cause the public to confuse him with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, so he dropped it and went by Ray Charles. The McSon Trio released several singles, including "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand," which hit the American R&B chart in 1951. In 1952 Atlantic Records signed Charles to a major contract, and he began recording and touring regularly. His first commercial success came when he went to New Orleans in 1953 to work with Guitar Slim. Slim's "The Things That I Used to Do" sold over a million copies and featured Charles on piano. This success gave Charles the confidence to form a larger band that included saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman.

For the Record …

Born Ray Charles Robinson on September 23, 1930, in Albany, GA; died on June 10, 2004, in Beverly Hills, CA; son of Bailey and Aretha Robinson; divorced, 1977; children: nine. Education: Attended St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind.

Permanently blinded at age seven by glaucoma, 1937; attended school for deaf and blind, where he learned to read music in Braille and play piano and clarinet, 1937-45; moved to Seattle to play with local bands, 1947; composed and recorded first single with McSon Trio, "Confession Blues," 1949; signed with Atlantic, 1952; recorded several singles with Atlantic, including "I Got A Woman," 1954; released debut album, Ray Charles, 1957; recorded first million-seller, "What'd I Say," 1959; signed with ABC-Paramount, 1959-65; recorded for his own production company, Tangerine Records, 1965-73; started production company Crossover Records, 1973; appeared in several films and television programs; recorded frequently in 1980s and 1990s; released Genius Loves Company, 2004.

Awards: Down Beat Critics Poll, New Star Award, 1958, 1961-64; NAACP Image Award, 1968; Down Beat Critics Poll, Best Soul and R&B Artist, 1984; Songwriters Hall of Fame honorary lifetime chairman; Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame; charter inductee of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; NAFEO Leadership Award, 1991; Grammy Awards, Best Rhythm & Blues Performance, Best Performance by a Pop Single Artist, Best Vocal Performance Album (Male), Best Vocal Performance Single Record Or Track (Male), 1960; Best Rhythm & Blues Recording, 1961-63; Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance, Best Rhythm & Blues Recording 1966; Best R&B Vocal Performance (Male), 1975; Lifetime Achievement Award, 1987; (with Chaka Khan) Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, 1990; Best R&B Vocal Performance (Male), 1993; (With Norah Jones) Record of the Year, Album of the Year, (With Norah Jones) Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals, Best Pop Vocal Album, (With Gladys Knight) Best Gospel Performance, 2004.

Addresses: Production company—Ray Charles Entertainment, 2107 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90018.

Charles achieved commercial success with his new band and Atlantic in 1954 with "It Should Have Been Me." Charles admitted to Marc Silver of U.S. News and World Report that he wasn't exactly an overnight success. "When I was coming up, the record people looked at the talent. I made about four records at Atlantic before I got a hit. Ain't no way I could be with a big company today and make four records that was not hits and they'd still keep me." Luckily, Atlantic kept him. Over the next several years, Charles's popularity skyrocketed as he hit the R&B charts regularly with songs like "I Got a Woman," "Don't You Know," "This Little Girl of Mine," "Drown In My Own Tears," and "Hallelujah I Love Her So." In 1957 Atlantic released Charles's debut album, simply titled Ray Charles.

At this stage of his career, Charles's musical style was a mix of gospel and blues. His distinctively raspy, soulful voice backed by his raucous piano became a trademark in his songs, especially the romping "What'd I Say." That song was a major hit in 1959, the first for Charles that sold over a million copies. The song crossed over to hit the U.S. popular music chart at number six, after hitting number one on the R&B chart. By now, Charles was a major name in the music industry, arranging and performing with several other artists, as well as composing his own hits. He was nicknamed the "Genius," after the Atlantic release of The Genius of Ray Charles in 1960. That same year, Charles's version of Hoagy Charmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" reached number one on the pop charts and sold over a million copies. In 1961 Charles won three Grammy Awards, two for "Georgia On My Mind," and one for the album The Genius of Ray Charles.

The Genius On His Way

Executives at ABC-Paramount Records took note of Charles's crossover success and persuaded him to sign with them in 1959. Charles continued his success with the album The Genius Hits the Road, which reached number nine on the pop charts. Three more "Genius" albums did very well in the charts: Genius + Soul = Jazz, The Genius After Hours, and The Genius Sings the Blues. The single "Hit the Road Jack," written by Charles's friend Percy Mayfield, reached number one and sold over a million copies. In 1962 another album, Modern Sounds in Country And Western Music, solidified Charles's place in music history by remaining at the top of the pop charts for 14 weeks. The album included Charles's renditions of Hank Williams and Floyd Tillman songs. One of the singles from the album, "I Can't Stop Loving You," was the year's bestselling single at over two million copies.

His versatility—and willingness to take risks—allowed Charles to record many different styles of music. As he told Down Beat, "My music's not about pleasing critics; it's about pleasing me." Charles's forays into so many different styles—gospel, jazz, R&B, pop, and country—often gave his music the reputation of being "eclectic." Charles claimed that he always had the confidence to record any music that sounded interesting to him because he had the backing of his record companies. He told Chris Morris of Billboard, "The way I look at it, I have a deal with record companies. I say, 'Look, if you don't bother me about my music, I won't bother you about your marketing, because I don't know nothing about marketing, and I don't figure you know that much about what I'm doing.'"

Charles spent the 1960s recording and touring, until he hit a bump in the road in 1964. After embarking on a world tour that included shows in Japan and Europe, Charles was arrested at Boston's Logan Airport for possession of narcotics. Customs officials found heroin and marijuana. After his arrest, Charles confessed to having been addicted to heroin since the age of 15. After the confession, he checked into a rehabilitation center in California and quit heroin in four days, never to go back. By the time he faced trial in 1966 for the arrest, he had been found clean and sober by several random drug tests throughout 1965. He was convicted of possession but was given a suspended sentence, a fine, and four years' probation. In 1966 Charles responded to the ordeal with the timely single "I Don't Need No Doctor."

In 1966 Charles expanded his horizons with a cameo role in the film Ballad in Blue. He also formed his own custom record company with ABC called Tangerine Records, and his first hit on that label was "Let's Go Get Stoned." In 1973 Charles left ABC to form Crossover Records with Atlantic, his original company. He continued to influence other musicians, including Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Steve Winwood, and Joe Cocker, earning numerous awards and countless hits along the way. Towards the end of the 1960s, however, his musical style had shifted from strong gospel and R&B to softer pop, jazz, and country songs.

Lifetime Achievement

In the 1970s Ray Charles was a major celebrity, recording an album each year of the decade, accumulating awards, and making film and television appearances. He composed songs for films and television shows, including the theme song for Three's Company and "Beers to You" for the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can. He appeared in the film The Blues Brothers as well as television's Moonlighting. While critics claimed that his music had taken on a softer touch, lacking the harder edge of his earlier gospel and blues mixes, fans continued to flock to his worldwide performances. Charles returned to country music with Friendship (1984), an album of duets pairing him with leading country stars including George Jones and even country-bluegrass vocalist Ricky Skaggs. He helped compose and then performed on the song "We Are the World" for the United States' fundraising efforts for Africa (USA for Africa) in 1985.

Charles's long career earned him several prestigious awards. In 1979 his rendition of "Georgia on My Mind" was officially named Georgia's state song. Charles was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 1988 he was awarded the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1994 Charles was honored with a twelfth Grammy Award for his rendition of "Song for You." A 1997 collection of his hits, Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection, had critics and fans taking a trip down memory lane. Some critics thought that the 101 songs included on Genius and Soul weren't enough. J. D. Cosidine of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Given the way many sets leave listeners moaning 'enough!,' isn't it nice to be left hungry for more?"

Though Charles's recording pace slowed during the last years of his life, he remained a sell-out draw in good-sized venues whenever he chose to tour. He released Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again on his own Crossover label in 2002, and the following year he began recording Genius Loves Company, a duet project pairing him on mostly classic pop songs with famed partners ranging from bluesman B.B. King and country singer Willie Nelson to newcomer chanteuse Norah Jones.

Charles fell ill with acute liver disease during the recording sessions, but the finished album was termed "modest, friendly, laid-back, and pleasing" by Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide, and it gave the singer a new burst of publicity. That burst turned into an explosion after Charles's death on June 10, 2004, at his home in Beverly Hills, California, when the world learned it had lost a true musical genius. "Of course, a great soul has gone on," vocalist Aretha Franklin told Jet. "He was a fabulous man, full of humor and wit. A giant of an artist, and of course, he introduced the world to secular soul singing."

At the Grammy Awards ceremony in February of 2005, Genius Loves Company won eight awards, including best album and record of the year for "Here We Go Again," Charles's duet with Norah Jones. The posthumous wins were the first since those for John Lennon's Double Fantasy in 1982, and the album shot to the top of the Billboard sales chart for the week following the ceremony. What promised to be a decades-long process of examining the musical legacy of Ray Charles had already begun in the fall of 2004, with the release of the biographical film Ray, featuring actor Jamie Foxx in the role of Charles. Part of the film's success—it won five Academy Awards, including a best actor nod for Foxx—was due to its solid-gold soundtrack of Ray Charles songs, the use of which Charles had approved before his death.

Selected discography

Singles

"Drown In My Own Tears," Atlantic, 1956.

"Hallelujah I Love Her So," Atlantic, 1956.

"Georgia on My Mind," Atlantic, 1960.

"Ruby," ABC, 1960.

"Hit the Road Jack," ABC, 1961.

"Unchain My Heart," ABC, 1961.

"I Can't Stop Loving You," ABC, 1962.

"Born to Lose," ABC, 1962.

"You Don't Know Me," ABC, 1962.

Albums

Ray Charles, Atlantic, 1957.

What'd I Say, Atlantic, 1958.

The Genius of Ray Charles, Atlantic, 1959.

The Genius Sings the Blues, Atlantic, 1960.

The Genius Hits the Road, ABC, 1960.

Genius + Soul = Jazz, ABC, 1961.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western, ABC, 1961.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Volume 2, ABC, 1962.

Ingredients in A Recipe for Soul, ABC, 1963.

Crying Time, ABC, 1966.

A Portrait of Ray, ABC, 1968.

Doing His Thing, ABC, 1969.

Volcanic Action of My Soul, ABC, 1971.

Brother Ray Is at It Again, Atlantic, 1980.

Wish You Were Here Tonight, Columbia, 1983.

Friendship, Columbia, 1984.

From the Pages of My Mind, Columbia, 1986.

Just Between Us, Columbia, 1988.

Would You Believe?, Warner Brothers, 1990.

My World, Warner Brothers, 1993.

Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection, Rhino, 1997.

Strong Love Affair, Warner Brothers, 1996.

Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again, Crossover, 2002.

Genius Loves Company, Concord, 2004.

Sources

Books

Crampton, Luke, and Dafydd Rees, editors, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing Inc., 1996.

Herzhaft, Gérard, Encyclopedia of the Blues, University of Arkansas Press, 1997.

Romanowski, Patricia, editor, The New Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1995.

Periodicals

Billboard, February 15, 1997.

Down Beat, January 1998.

Eyeneer Music Archives, 1997.

Jet, February 20, 1995; September 22, 1997; June 28, 2004.

Maclean's, July 13, 1998.

New York Times, February 14, 2005.

Palo Alto Weekly, September 26, 1997.

People, September 22, 1997.

U.S. News and World Report, September 22, 1997.

Online

"Ray Charles," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (March 27, 2005).

ChristineMorrisonand

JamesM.Manheim

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Charles, Ray

Ray Charles

Piano, singer, songwriter

Genius Made

The Genius On His Way

Lifetime Achievement

Selected discography

Sources

Singer, pianist Ray Charlespopularity spans numerous generations. Toddlers may have seen Charles singing the alphabet with Elmo on Sesame Street. Teenagers may remember a catchy Pepsi commercial with Charles singing in his gravely voice, You Got the Right One, Baby, Uh-huh! Many adults, however, grew up listening to his blend of gospel, blues, and rock and roll songs that cemented Charles name in the history books. He was one of the first soul stars and a major influence for musicians who would follow him. He has recorded all styles of music, from gospel to jazz to country western. A compilation of his work was released in 1997 titled Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection. He has won countless awards, including 12 Grammy awards and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As he stated in his 1978 autobiography BrotherRay, Music is nothing separate from me. It is me.

Ray Charles Robinson did not have an easy childhood. At five, he witnessed the death of his younger brother, George, who fell into a washtub in the backyard and drowned. Soon after, Charles contracted the degenerative eye disease glaucoma, which went untreated. He could look directly at the sun when he was four, and by age seven he was permanently blind. Born in Albany, Georgia in 1930, he was raised in Greenville, Florida in extreme poverty. His father died when he was ten. His mother died when he was 15, leaving Charles to fend for himself. Charles later told Jet that his mother had given him valuable advice before she died. My mom would say, You might not be able to do things like a person who can see. But there are always two ways to do everything. Youve just got to find the other way.

An inkling of the musical talent that Charles embodied revealed itself when he was three as he sang with the Shiloh Baptist Church choir. At four, he sang in the Red Wing Cafe, where the owner let him play the piano. In 1937 Charles entered the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind as a charity student He studied classical piano and clarinet, and learned to read and write music in Braille, which he said gave him a greater understanding of music. He told Alan Paul of People, Because in Braille music, you can only read so many bars at a time. You cant play it and see it at the same time, so your memory and understanding expand. When the death of Charles mother left him an orphan at fifteen, he left school and joined a few dance bands in Jacksonville, Florida. He made enough money to help him relocate to Seattle, Washington where he entered a talent contest the first night he was there. He was offered a job playing at the local Elks club, where he crooned, Nat King Cole style. He formed the McSon Trio, and planned his next move.

Genius Made

After playing several clubs in Washington, Charles and his trio moved to Los Angeles and recorded their first single, Confession Blues, which was written by Charles. In 1949, Charles worried that his original last name, Robinson, would cause the public to confuse him with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, so he dropped it and went by Ray Charles. The McSon Trio released several singles including Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand, which hit the U.S.R&B chart in 1951. In 1952, Atlantic Records signed Charles to a major contract and he began recording and touring regularly. His first commercial success came when he went to New Orleans in 1953 to work with Guitar Slim. Slims The Things That I Used to Do sold over a million copies and featured Charles on piano. This success gave Charles the confidence to form a larger band that included saxophonist David Fathead Newman.

Charles achieved commercial success with his new band and Atlantic in 1954 with It Should Have Been Me. Charles admitted to Marc Silver of U.S. News and World Report that he wasnt exactly an overnight success. When I was coming up, the record people looked at the talent. I made about four records at Atlantic before I got a hit. Aint no way I could be with a big company today and make four records that was not hits and

For the Record

Born Ray Charles Robinson, September 23, 1930 in Albany, GA, to Bailey and Aretha Robinson; divorced, 1977; nine children. Education: attended St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind.

Permanently blinded at age seven by glaucoma, 1937; attended school for deaf and blind where he learned to read music in Braille and play piano, clarinet, 1937-45; left school, joined Florida dance bands, 1945; moved to Seattle to play with local bands, 1947; composed and recorded first single with McSon Trio Confession Blues, 1949; signed with Atlantic, 1952; recorded several singles with Atlantic, including I Got A Woman, 1954; released debut album, Ray Charles, 1957; recorded first million-seller Whatd I Say, 1959; signed with ABC-Paramount, 1959-1965; recorded for his own production company, Tangerine Records, 1965-73; started production company, Crossover Records, 1973; Appeared in several films and television programs.

Awards: recipient New Star award, Down Beat critics poll, 1958, 1961-64; NAACP Image Award, number one singer, Jazz Critics Poll, 1968; twelve Grammy awards including Lifetime Achievement Award, 1987; best soul and R&B artist, Down Beat critics poll, 1984; Songwriters Hall of Fame honorary lifetime chairman; Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame; four gold albums; charter inductee of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; NAFEO Leadership award, 1991.

Addresses: Production company Ray Charles Entertainment 2107 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90018.

theyd still keep me. Luckily, Atlantic kept him. Over the next several years, Charles popularity skyrocketed as he hit the R&B charts regularly with songs like I Got a Woman, Dont You Know, This Little Girl of Mine, Drown In My Own Tears, and Hallelujah I Love Her So. In 1957, Atlantic released Charles debut album simply titled Ray Charles.

At this stage of his career, Charles musical style was a mix of gospel and blues. His distinctively raspy, soulful voice backed by his raucous piano became a trademark in his songs, especially the romping Whatd I Say. That song was a major hit in 1959, the first of Charles that sold over a million copies. The song crossed over to hit the U.S. popular music chart at number six after hitting number one on the R&B chart. By now, Charles was a major name in the music industry, arranging and performing with several other artists, as well as composing his own hits. He was nicknamed the Genius, after the Atlantic release of The Genius of Ray Charles in 1960. That same year, Charles version of Hoagy Charmichaels Georgia On My Mind reached number one on the pop charts and sold over a million copies. In 1961 Charles won three Grammy awards, two for Georgia On My Mind, and one for the album The Genius of Ray Charles.

The Genius On His Way

Executives at ABC-Paramount Records took note of Charles crossover success and persuaded him to sign with them in 1959. Charles continued his success with the album The Genius Hits the Road, which reached number nine on the pop charts. Three more Genius albums did very well in the charts: Genius + Soul=Jazz, The Genius After Hours and The Genius Sings the Blues. The single Hit the Road Jack, written by Charlesfriend Percy Mayfield, reached numberoneand sold over a million copies. In 1962, another album, Modern Sounds in Country And Western Music, solidified Charles place in music history by remaining at the top of the pop chart for 14 weeks. The album included Charles renditions of Hank Williams and Floyd Tillman songs. One of the singles off of the album, I Cant Stop Loving You, was the years best selling single at over two million copies.

His versatilityand willingness to take risksallowed Charles to record many different styles of music. As he told Down Beat, My musics not about pleasing critics; its about pleasing me. Charles forays into so many different stylesgospel, jazz, R&B, pop, and countryoften gave his music the reputation of being eclectic. Charles claimed that he always had the confidence to record any music that sounded interesting to him because he always had the backing of his record companies. He told Chris Morris of Billboard, The way I look at it, I have a deal with record companies. I say, Look, if you dont bother me about my music, I wont bother you about your marketing, because I dont know nothing about marketing, and I dont figure you know that much about what Im doing.

Charles spent the sixties recording and touring until he hit a bump in the road in 1964. After embarking on a world tour that included shows in Japan and Europe, Charles was arrested at Bostons Logan Airport for possession of narcotics. Customs officials found heroin and marijuana. After his arrest, Charles confessed to having been addicted to heroin since the age of 15 almost 20 years of addiction! After the confession, he checked into a rehabilitation center in California and quit heroin in four days, never to go back. By the time he faced a trial in 1966 for the arrest, he was found clean and sober by several random drug tests throughout 1965. He was convicted of possession, but given a suspended sentence, a fine, and four years probation. In 1966, Charles responded to the ordeal with the timely single I Dont Need No Doctor.

In 1966, Charles expanded his horizons with a cameo role in the film, Ballad in Blue. He also formed his own custom record company with ABC called Tangerine Records. His first hit on that label was Lets Go Get Stoned. Later, in 1973, Charles left ABC to form Crossover Records with Atlantic, his original company. He continued to influence other musicians such as Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Steve Winwood, and Joe Cocker, earning numerous awards and countless hits along the way. Towards the end of the 1960s, however, his musical style had shifted from the strong gospel and r&b to softer pop, jazz, and country songs.

Lifetime Achievement

In the 1970s, Ray Charles was a major celebrity, recording an album each year of the decade, accumulating awards, and making several film and television appearances. He composed songs for films and television shows, including the theme song for Threes Company and Beers to You for the Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can. He appeared in the film The Blues Brothers as well as televisions Moonlighting. While critics claimed that his music took on a softer touch, lacking the harder edge of his earlier gospel and blues mixes, his fans continued to sell out his worldwide performances. He helped compose and performed onthe song We Are the World for the United States fundraising effort for Africa (USA for Africa) in 1985.

Charles long career spawned several prestigious awards. In 1979, his rendition of Georgia on My Mind was officially named Georgias state song. Charles was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 1988 he was awarded the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1994, Charles was honored with a twelfth Grammy Award for his rendition of Song for You. A1997 collection of his hits, Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection, had critics and fans taking atrip down memory lane. Some critics thought that the 101 songs included on Genius and Soul werent enough. J. D. Cosidine of Entertainment Weekly wrote, given the way many sets leave listeners moaning enough ! isnt it nice to be left hungry for more?

Selected discography

Singles

Drown In My Own Tears, Atlantic, 1956.

Hallelujah I Love Her So, Atlantic, 1956.

Georgia on My Mind, Atlantic, 1960.

Ruby, ABC, 1960.

Hit the Road Jack, ABC, 1961.

Unchain My Heart, ABC, 1961.

I Cant Stop Loving You, ABC, 1962.

Born to Lose, ABC, 1962.

You Dont Know Me, ABC, 1962.

Albums

Ray Charles, Atlantic, 1957.

Whatd I Say, Atlantic, 1958.

The Genius of Ray Charles, Atlantic, 1959.

The Genius Sings the Blues, Atlantic, 1960.

The Genius Hits the Road, ABC, 1960.

Genius + Soul= Jazz, ABC, 1961.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western, ABC, 1961.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Volume 2, ABC, 1962.

Ingredients in A Recipe for Soul, ABC, 1963.

Crying Time, ABC, 1966.

A Portrait of Ray, ABC, 1968.

Doing His Thing, ABC, 1969.

Volcanic Action of My Soul, ABC, 1971.

Brother Ray Is at It Again, Atlantic, 1980.

My World, Warner Brothers, 1993.

Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection, Rhino, 1997.

Sources

Books

Crampton, Luke and Dafydd Rees, editors, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing Inc., 1996.

Herzhaft, Gerard, Encyclopedia of the Blues, University of Arkansas Press, 1997.

Romanowski, Patricia, editor, The New Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1995.

Periodicals

Billboard, February 15, 1997.

Down Beat, January 1998.

Jet, February 20, 1995; September 22, 1997.

Macleans, July 13, 1998.

People September 22, 1997.

U.S. News and World Report, September 22, 1997.

Online

All-Music Guide, 1998.

Eyeneer Music Archives, 1997.

Palo Alto Weekly,(September 26, 1997).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, www.rockhall.com, 1998.

Christine Morrison

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Charles, Ray

Ray Charles

Singer, songwriter, pianist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

A living legend, Ray Charles is generally regarded as one of the most influential figures in contemporary music. The multitalented musician has seen both artistic and commercial success, surmounting personal tragedy to become an exceptional singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and bandleader. He has also proven himself the master of almost every conceivable musical style, ranging from jazz and rhythm-and-blues to pop, rock, and even country-and-western. But in a career that has thus far spanned four decades, Charles remains best known as the Genius of Soul, the man who fused gospel with rhythm-and-blues to create an entirely new style of black popular music.

The Southern-born Charles took an early interest in music, reportedly teaching himself to play the piano at age three. Although struck with an illness that caused him to start going blind at age five and rendered him totally blind by age seven, he continued to develop his musical talents. At the St. Augustine School for the Blind in Florida, the youth learned to play trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, and organ. He also learned to compose musical scores in Braille, and in 1945, after being orphaned, he left school to begin his career.

During the next ten years Charles experimented with a variety of musical styles before finding his own sound. He traveled through the South with rhythm-and-blues bands, headed up a notable black jazz trio in Seattle, toured with bluesman Lowell Fulson as well as solo, and distinguished himself as an arranger. He tried modeling himself after the great American singer/pianist Nat King Cole and absorbed the lessons of such talents as Charles Brown, Guitar Slim, and Lloyd Glenn. But according to Esquire contributing editor Guy Martin, probably the most radical change in the mans life occurred when he stopped imitating others and began singing like himself.

As a result, Charles emerged as one of the most innovative entertainers of the 1950s. He recorded a couple of rhythm-and-blues hits in the early fifties, then saw the 1954 It Should Have Been Me reach number one. He made recording history, however, with Ive Got a Woman in 1955. His own composition, the song combined the emotional fervor of gospel with the sexuality of the blues to establish an altogether new kind of music. Later called soul, the new music was considered revolutionary not simply because it united two traditions, but because of the emotional intensity with which it was presented. According to Charles, the musician had to feel the music before the audience could feel it.

Ive Got a Woman became a national hit, and its debut helped alter the course of popular music. Indeed, although Charles continued his work in jazz and

For the Record

Full name, Ray Charles Robinson; born September 23, 1930 (some sources say 1932), in Albany, Ga.; son of Bailey (a mechanic and handyman) and Areatha ([one source lists given name as Reather] a saw mill employee) Robinson; married Della Antwine (a singer); children: three. Education: Attended St. Augustine School for the Blind.

Musician, singer, and composer. Began professional career touring with a combo in the South, 1945; performed with Seattle-based jazz trio, c. 1947-49; toured with bluesman Lowell Fulson, 1950-52; toured as soloist; formed own band, 1954, subsequently adding a female vocal group, the Raelettes (originally spelled Raylettes), and speciality acts; founded Ray Charles Enterprises (recording, publishing, and management company), Los Angeles, Calif.; recording artist with Swing Time, 1951-52, with Atlantic Records, 1952-59, with ABC-Paramount, 1959-65, with Tangerine Records, 1965-73, with Crossover Records, 1973-77, re-signed with Atlantic, 1977. Makes regular concert tours; plays nightclubs and appears on television.

Awards: Winner of down beat magazines International Jazz Critics Poll, 1958 and 1961-64; named top male singer in sixteenth International Jazz Critics Poll, 1968; named best soul and rhythm-and-blues artist in down beats critics poll, 1984; named to Playboy Jazz and Pop Hall of Fame and to Songwriters Hall of Fame; named honorary life chairman of Rhythm-and-Blues Hall of Fame; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1986; honored by John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 1986; recipient of at least ten Grammy Awards from Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Addresses: Home Los Angeles, CA. Other 2107 W. Washington Blvd. #2, Los Angeles, CA; c/o Triad Artists Inc., 90200 Sunset Blvd. Suite 823, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

rhythm-and-blues, it was his new sound, the granddaddy of pop, rock, and soul, that consistently drew rave reviews. Scoring top-ten hits became almost routine for the star as he recorded such now-vintage tunes as This Little Girl of Mine, Hallelujah I Love Her So, Right Time, and Whatd I Say.

Toward the end of the 1950s, the pioneering musician decided to switch from Atlantic Records to ABC/Paramount. The move proved fortuitous. His first hit for the label, the 1960 release Georgia on My Mind, became a commercial turning point, with outstanding sales shattering previous records and propelling the young performer into the public eye. As greater attention than ever was focused on his work, Charles found his music appealing to a broader and broader audience. In fact Charles, perhaps more than any other artist of the time, is credited with popularizing traditional black musicwhat Geoffrey C. Ward, in a review for American Heritage, attested was once called race musicamong white audiences. As Ward remembered, it seemed raw, ardent, unabashed, above all, compellingunlike anything most of us had ever heard before.

Charless eclecticism greatly contributed to his success. Ever inventive, and indifferent to labels, the artist has always been willing to experiment. As he told Martin, If I like it, I dont give a damn what it is. Ill sing it. As a result, the growing star continued to expand his range. In 1961 he recorded a country and western hit album titled Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, and one of its spin-off singles, I Cant Stop Loving You, became a 1962 country, rhythm-and-blues, and pop hit. From 1961 through 1965 Charles was named the United Statess top male vocalist in down beat magazines poll of international jazz critics. Credited with influencing countless musicians, including such greats as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and James Brown, the entertainer elected, during the mid-1960s, to begin working the nightclub circuit. Although some critics saw the decision as an admission of declining appeal, Charless continuing success has all but vanquished those claims. Indeed, the musician is so versatile that he has been impossible to stereotypeand has thereby been free to pursue his own agenda. And given a choice, Charles prefers to sing and play the piano. In fact, despite his remarkable songwriting talents, Charles does not view himself as a composer at heart. He told Martin, If you say to me, what is it that is you Then I say singing a song, sitting at the piano and singing.

And thats just what the artist has been doing in the seventies and eighties. He spends nearly half the year in concert, giving polished, professional performances. His audiences, as always, remain diverse, reflecting his widespread appeal. As Martin described, Charles has consistently been too popular for pure jazz, too jazzy for pure blues, too bluesy for pure pop. Musical fashion was naturally something he made, but most of the time it was cut to fit his defiantly catholic ear. And if the musician himself has anything to say about it, hell continue making music that way forever. As he revealed in his conversation with the Esquire editor: Music is just as much a part of me as your breathin or your bloodstream is to you. So they aint no retiring from it; Im gonna do it till I die. This is all I know, and all I wanna know.

If it were up to reviewer Ward, Charles would be named a National Living Treasure. From his beginnings as a jazz and rhythm-and-blues man in the 1940s to his peak as an innovator in the fifties and sixties to his continuing excellence as a performer in the seventies and eighties, the entertainer has consistently defied expectations. Indeed, as one of those rare musicians whose talents span a variety of musical styles as well as decades of musical history, Ray Charles has secured a place for himself among the most important figures in post-World War II American music.

Selected discography

Major single releases

Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand, Swing Time, 1951.

Kiss Me Baby, Swing Time, 1952.

It Should Have Been Me, Atlantic, 1954.

Ive Got a Woman, Atlantic, 1955.

Hallelujah I Love Her So, Atlantic, 1956.

Whatd I Say?, Atlantic, 1959.

Let the Good Times Roll, Atlantic, 1960.

Come Rain or Come Shine, Atlantic, 1960.

One Mint Julep, Impulse, 1960.

Georgia On My Mind, ABC, 1960.

Ruby, ABC, 1960.

Hit the Road Jack, ABC, 1961.

Unchain My Heart, ABC, 1961.

I Cant Stop Loving You, ABC, 1962.

Born to Lose, ABC, 1962.

You Dont Know Me, ABC, 1962.

Busted, ABC, 1963.

I Got a Woman, ABC, 1965.

Crying Time, ABC, 1965.

Living For the City, Crossover, 1975.

Albums

Ray Charles, Atlantic, 1957.

The Great Ray Charles, Atlantic, c. 1958.

Ray Charles at Newport, Atlantic, 1958.

Yes Indeed, Atlantic, 1958.

(With Milt Jackson) Soul Brothers, Atlantic, c. 1958.

Whatd I Say, Atlantic, 1959.

The Genius of Ray Charles, Atlantic, 1959.

Ray Charles Sextet, Atlantic, 1960.

Ray Charles In Person, Atlantic, 1960.

The Genius Hits the Road, ABC, 1960.

The Genius Sings the Blues, Atlantic, c. 1960.

The Genius After Hours, Atlantic, 1961.

Dedicated to You, ABC, 1961.

Genius + Soul=Jazz, Impulse, 1961.

Ray Charles and Betty Carter, ABC, c. 1960.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western, ABC, 1961.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western, Volume 2, ABC, 1962.

(With Milt Jackson) Brothers in Soul: Soul Meeting, Atlantic, 1962.

Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul, ABC, 1963.

Sweet and Sour Tears, ABC, 1963.

Have a Smile With Me, ABC, 1964.

Live in Concert, ABC, 1965.

Together Again, ABC, 1965.

Cincinnati Kid (film soundtrack) MGM, 1965.

Crying Time, ABC, 1966.

Rays Moods, ABC, 1966.

Ray Charles Invites You to Listen, ABC, 1967.

In the Heat of the Night (film soundtrack) UA, 1967.

A Portrait of Ray, ABC, c. 1968.

Love Country Style, ABC, c. 1969.

Im All Yours Baby, ABC, c. 1969.

Doing His Thing, ABC, 1969.

My Kind of Jazz, Tangerine, 1970.

Volcanic Action of My Soul, ABC, 1971.

Ray Charles Presents the Raelettes, Tangerine, 1972.

Jazz Number Two, Tangerine, 1973.

A Message From the People, ABC, 1972.

Through the Eyes of Love, ABC, c 1972.

Come Live With Me, Crossover, 1974.

Live in Japan, Crossover, 1975.

My Kind of Jazz, Volume 3, Crossover, 1975.

Renaissance, Crossover, 1975.

(With Cleo Laine) Porgy and Bess, RCA, 1976.

True to Life, Atlantic, 1977.

Love and Peace, Atlantic, 1978.

Aint It So, Atlantic, 1979.

Brother Ray Is at It Again, Atlantic, 1980.

From the Pages of My Mind, Columbia, 1986.

Also released numerous anthologies, including The Ray Charles Story, four volumes, Atlantic, 1962-64, A Man and His Soul, ABC, 1967, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Salute, ABC, 1971, and Rockin With Ray, Archive of Folk and Jazz Music, 1980. More than thirty additional albums feature the Ray Charles Singers.

Sources

Books

Charles, Ray and D. Ritz, Brother Ray: Ray Charles Own Story, Dial Press, 1978.

Periodicals

American Heritage, August-September, 1986.

Esquire, May, 1986.

Jet, December 9, 1985.

Rolling Stone, February 13, 1986; February 17, 1986.

Stereo Review, February, 1986.

Nancy H. Evans

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Ray Charles

Ray Charles

The American jazz musician Ray Charles (born 1932) was widely admired as a singer, pianist, and composer. He combined elements of jazz, gospel and rhythm-and-blues to create a new kind of African-American music, known as soul.

Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia, on September 23, 1932. His father, Bailey Robinson, worked as a mechanic and handyman; his mother, Reather Robinson, worked in a sawmill. In order to avoid being confused with boxing champion Ray Robinson, he dropped his last name and was known as Ray Charles.

Suffered Blindness and Loss

The family moved from Albany, Georgia, to Greenville, Florida, when Charles was still a child. In Greenville, at the age of five, he began to go blind. At the age of seven, his right eye was removed, soon after which he became totally blind. At the Saint Augustine School for the Blind, in Florida, he learned to read Braille and began his musicianship as a pianist and clarinetist/saxophonist. His blindness required that he exercise his formidable memory for music aided by his gift of perfect pitch.

At 15 years of age, Charles lost his mother; two years later his father passed away. Suffering, somehow, always produces the greater artist. Charles, early orphaned and blind, suffered and grew in the capacity for emotion which infused his music.

Began Career With Country/Western Bands

Upon graduation from the Saint Augustine School, Charles traveled with country/western road bands—an experience he was to capitalize on later when he added country/western songs to his repertoire. Shortly afterwards, he began touring with rhythm-and-blues bands, working as a pianist, clarinetist, saxophonist, arranger, and composer.

As a singer, Charles was early influenced by blues singers Guitar Slim and Percy Mayfield. At the piano he was influenced by the jazz arrangements of Lloyd Glenn. Forever present in his style was the idiom of gospel music, sometimes subsumed by the other styles he sang; sometimes emerging in his pronunciation; sometimes predominating, as soul music. Charles' romantic ballad singing continued fundamentally in the suave Nat Cole school, but was embellished by deep-throated gospel growls and phenomenal falsetto which was frequently mistaken for a female soprano voice. The texture of his voice, his mixing of styles, his consummate musicianship, his versatile falsetto range, and his emotional appeal produced a unique vocal artistry which crossed even language barriers, but for an English-speaking audience his story-telling power added the dimension of meaning that provided a totally emotional experience not often equaled in any quarter of musical art.

Invented Soul

In 1954 an historic recording session with Atlantic records fused gospel with rhythm-and-blues and established Charles' "sweet new style" in American music. One number recorded at that session was destined to become his first great success. Secularizing the gospel hymn "My Jesus Is All the World to Me," Charles employed the 8-and 16-measure forms of gospel music, in conjunction with the 12-measure form of standard blues. Charles contended that his invention of soul music resulted from the heightening of the intensity of the emotion expressed by jazz through the charging of feeling in the unbridled way of gospel. When "It Don't Mean a Thing, If It Ain't Got That Swing" combines with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," the result is a beat hard to beat, and Charles never sang a note that was not perfectly on pitch or did not swing in his exceptional rhythmical contexts.

In 1959, on the ABC-Paramount label, Charles recorded his legendary "Georgia on my Mind." In 1961 he won the first of five consecutive polls conducted among international jazz critics by Downbeat magazine. Charles won several Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. His virtuosity was internationally recognized. In 1976, he recorded songs from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess with Cleo Laine.

A Pepsi endorsement in the 1990s ensured that Charles would be known to a new generation of music lovers. He kept the albums coming, including My World, The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years, and Love Affair, and he even had a cameo in the 1996 movie Spy Hard.

Views on Elvis

In 1994, Charles appeared on the NBC news show "Now," admitting that "I'm probably going to lose at least a third of my fans," but telling interviewer Bob Costas that Elvis imitated what African-American artists were already doing. "To say that Elvis was … 'the king,' I don't think of Elvis like that because I know too many artists that were far greater than Elvis." While this statement caused a stir, it was known that rock-and-roll, especially in the early years, was heavily rooted in blues, and many rock artists performed and popularized music that originally belonged to African-American blues singers.

Although described by Nat Hentoff as living within "concentric circles of isolation," Charles was married to the former Della Altwine, herself a gospel singer, with whom he had three children. He was also known to enjoy good friendship with Stevie Wonder and other musicians. Yet there was a loneliness in his music, a kind of self-intimacy which was, perhaps, best reflected in his 1961 recordings with Betty Carter and his recordings from Porgy and Bess.

Of course, loneliness is inherent in the blues, but so much in the art depends upon the feelings of the interpreter that it is clear that there was a kind of loneliness inherent in Charles, himself; a loneliness that we are reminded that we share whenever we hear him sing. There is no more existential art than the art of music, which exists as creative experience only in the time of its performance. As Charles best put it himself, in a 1989 Downbeat interview with Jeff Levinson:

And then you have another kind of person like myself, for whom music is like the bloodstream. It is their total existence. When their music dies, they die. That's me. That's the difference.

How can you get tired of breathing? Music is my breathing. That's my apparatus. I've been doing it for 40 years. And I'm going to do it until God himself says, "Brother Ray, you've been a nice horse, but now I'm going to put you out to pasture."

Further Reading

There is no full-length biography of Ray Charles at this time. Information can be found in Downbeat (January 1989); Ebony (April 1963); New York Post (January 4, 1962); New York Times (October 8, 1961); Newsweek (November 13, 1961); Saturday Evening Post (August 24, 1963); Show Business Illustrated (March 1962); TIME (May 10, 1963); Leonard Feather, Encyclopedia of Jazz (1960); American Heritage (August-September, 1986); Esquire (May, 1986); Rolling Stone (February 13, 1986); and Jet (July 25, 1994). □

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Charles, Ray

Ray Charles

Born: September 23, 1932
Albany, Georgia

African American musician and pianist

The African American musician Ray Charles was widely admired as a singer, pianist, and composer (writer of music). He combined elements of jazz, gospel, and rhythm-and-blues to create a new kind of African American music known as soul.

Early life

Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia, on September 23, 1932. His father, Bailey Robinson, worked as a railroad mechanic and handyman; his mother, Aretha Robinson, worked in a sawmill and sometimes washed other people's clothes to make extra money. In his autobiography (the story of his own life) Brother Ray, Charles remembered that "The old man was hardly ever around." The family moved to Greenville, Florida, when Charles was still a child. At the age of five Charles watched his four-year-old brother drown in a laundry tub despite his efforts to save the boy.

Soon afterward Charles began to go blind. At the age of seven his right eye was removed, soon after which he became totally blind. He was sent to the Saint Augustine School for the Blind, in Florida, where he learned to read Braille (a system of raised dots on paper that the blind can use to read) and began to play the piano, clarinet, and saxophone. His blindness required him to use his strong memory for music and his gift of perfect pitch. At fifteen years of age Charles lost his mother; two years later his father passed away. The suffering Charles experienced, having gone blind and been left an orphan at an early age, gave his music added depth of feeling.

Early career

After graduation from the Saint Augustine School, Charles traveled across Florida and performed with country and western bands. It was an experience that helped him later, when he added western songs to his performances. Shortly afterward he began touring with rhythm-and-blues bands, arranging and composing music as well as playing the piano, clarinet, and saxophone. In order to avoid being confused with boxing champion Ray Robinson (19211989), he dropped his last name and became known as Ray Charles.

Charles grew tired of Florida and decided to use his savings to go as far away as possible. He wound up in Seattle, Washington, where he formed a band called the McSon Trio, which eventually had its own local television show. He also made several records for the Swingtime record company. In 1950 he moved to Los Angeles, California (where Swingtime was based), and continued to record and perform.

As a singer, blues singers Guitar Slim (19261959) and Percy Mayfield influenced Charles. At the piano, the jazz arrangements of Lloyd Glenn influenced him. The influence of gospel music was always present in his style. Charles's singing of romantic songs continued in the smooth tradition of Nat "King" Cole (19171965), but was boosted by deep-throated growls and high notes that were often thought to be coming from a female voice. His strong voice, his mixing of styles, and his skill as a musician gave him international appeal, but for an English-speaking audience his storytelling power added something extra that made Charles stand out from other artists.

Invented soul music

In 1954 a recording session with Atlantic Records combined gospel with rhythm-and-blues and established Charles's "sweet new style" in American music. Charles used the forms of both gospel music and standard blues in recording such songs as "My Jesus Is All the World to Me," "I Got a Woman," and "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand." Charles referred to his invention of soul music as a combination of jazz and gospel. He continued to tour, spending most of the 1950s on the road.

In 1959, on the ABC-Paramount label, Charles recorded his famous "Georgia on My Mind," which later became the official song of the state of Georgia. Charles won ten Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. In 1976 he recorded songs from George Gershwin's (18981937) Porgy and Bess with Cleo Laine. A television ad for Pepsi in the 1990s helped make sure that Charles would be known to a new generation of music lovers. He also kept the albums coming, including My World, The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years, and Love Affair. He also appeared in films such as Ballad in Blue, The Blues Brothers, Limit Up, and Spy Hard.

Views on Elvis

In 1994 Charles appeared on the NBC news show Now, admitting that "I'm probably going to lose at least a third of my fans," when he told interviewer Bob Costas (1952) that Elvis Presley (19351977) had just copied what African American artists were already doing. "To say that Elvis was 'the king,' I don't think of Elvis like that because I know too many artists that were far greater than Elvis." While this statement caused a stir, it was known that rock music, especially in its early years, was heavily rooted in blues. Many rock artists performed and became popular by playing music that originally belonged to African American blues singers.

Later years

Charles is married to the former Della Altwine, herself a gospel singer, with whom he has three children. He is also good friends with Stevie Wonder (1950), Quincy Jones (1933), and other musicians. Yet there is always a feeling of loneliness in his music that is, perhaps, best reflected in his recordings with Betty Carter (19301998) and his recordings from Porgy and Bess. Charles put it best himself in a 1989 Downbeat interview with Jeff Levinson: "Music is my breathing. That's my apparatus. I've been doing it for 40 years. And I'm going to do it until God himself says, 'Brother Ray, you've been a nice horse, but now I'm going to put you out to pasture.'"

Ray Charles also remains in the news for his generous donations to educational institutions. In 2000 he gave Wilberforce University in Ohio a two-million-dollar gift to fund music scholarships, and in 2001 he donated one million dollars to all-black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Both universities awarded honorary degrees (received without having met the usual requirements) to Charles. Charles also appeared in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2001 to promote a new line of slot machines that the Alliance Gaming Corporation had created for the blind to use.

For More Information

Charles, Ray. Brother Ray: Ray Charles' Own Story. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992.

Lydon, Michael. Ray Charles: Man and Music. New York: Riverhead, 1998.

Ritz, David. Ray Charles: Voice of Soul. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.

Turk, Ruth. Ray Charles: Soul Man. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1996.

Winski, Norman. Ray Charles. Los Angeles: Melrose Square, 1994.

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Charles, Ray

Ray Charles (Ray Charles Robinson), 1930–2004, African-American musician and composer, b. Albany, Ga. Blinded at age seven, he was raised in Florida and at 16 began singing in a local hillbilly group. Two years later he moved to Seattle, where he formed his own trio. Charles rose to fame in the 1950s singing rhythm-and-blues tunes in an exuberant yet sophisticated style to the accompaniment of his piano and band. He had his first national recorded hit, "I've Got a Woman," in 1955. Combining sacred styles with the secular and rooted in gospel music and the blues, his work infused soul into a variety of genres, and it influenced, and was influenced by, jazz and rock music. Among Charles's greatest hits were "Whad'd I Say" (1959), "Georgia on My Mind" (1960), and his soulful rendition of "America the Beautiful" (1984). An outstanding live performer, he also recorded more than 60 albums and won 12 Grammy awards. He was inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

See his autobiography (1978); biographies by D. Ritz (1978) and M. Lydon (1998).

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