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Robinson, Ray Charles 1930-2004

ROBINSON, Ray Charles 1930-2004

(Ray Charles)


See index for CA sketch: Born September 23, 1930, in Albany, GA; died of complications from liver disease June 10, 2004, in Beverly Hills, CA. Musician, composer, singer, and author. Robinson, best known by his stage name, Ray Charles, was a Grammy-winning pianist, composer, and singer widely considered a musical genius and a legendary influence in rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, soul, rock, and country music. Charles's early life was filled with struggles and tragedy, including witnessing his own brother's drowning and being struck with blindness from glaucoma at the age of seven. His father died when he was ten years old, and his mother passed away five years later; thus, Charles was on his own by the age of fifteen. His musical gifts—he had learned to play the piano, clarinet, and other instruments at the State School for Deaf and Blind Children in St. Augustine, Florida—proved to be his savior. He found work as a musician in Florida, and then in Seattle, Washington, playing in jazz bands, and by 1954 had formed his own band, the Maxin Trio; Charles dropped his last name so that he would not be confused with boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson. His first R&B hit, "Confession Blues," made the charts in Los Angeles in 1949, and his first hit with the Maxin Trio, 1954's "I've Got a Woman," reached number one on the R&B charts. This song was a breakthrough in the way it successfully combined gospel and blues styles. Other hits, such as "Swanee River Rock," "What'd I Say?," "A Fool for You," and "Drown in My Own Tears," followed, and Charles soon abandoned emulating his idol Nat "King" Cole to develop his own unique performing style as a charismatic singer and pianist backed up by his trio of female singers, the "Raelettes;" unlike most other musicians, Charles's blend of styles made him difficult to categorize, and though some reviewers criticized him for it initially, his efforts to just be "what I was," as he put it, soon gained him many followers and imitators. A fan of gospel and country music, Charles also had a major impact in country with his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962), which many consider to have modernized the genre. Helping to put the record label Atlantic Records on the map during his 1952 to 1959 contract, Charles moved to ABC-Paramount from 1959 to 1965, and started his own record label, Tangerine Records, in 1965; he returned to Atlantic in 1977. While at his height of popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, enjoying success with such songs as "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Hit the Road, Jack," and "Georgia on My Mind," Charles suffered a setback when he was busted for marijuana and heroine possession. Admitting to his addiction, he managed to overcome drugs by 1965 and was clean ever since. Though some music critics feel that after such albums as Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul (1963), Sweet & Sour Tears (1964), and My Kind of Jazz (1970), Charles had hit his stride and had managed to segue from innovative composer to the mainstream, he continued to be a prolific and popular artist for decades to come. He received twelve Grammy awards, including a 1987 Lifetime Achievement award, and many other honors, such as the NAACP Image Award and induction into the Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, and Country Music Halls of Fame. Living and breathing music throughout his life, he refused to slow down, even after hip surgery in 2003; his last public appearance was on April 30, 2004, when his Los Angeles studio was designated a historic landmark. Charles related much of his life's story in the 1978 autobiography Brother Ray: Ray Charles' Own Story, written with David Ritz.



Chicago Tribune, June 11, 2004, Section 1, pp. 1, 12.

Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2004, pp. A1, A17.

New York Times, June 11, 2004, pp. A1, C12.

Times (London, England), June 12, 2004, p. 49.

Washington Post, June 11, 2004, pp. A1, A12.

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