Ray Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson on the 23rd of September, 1930 in Albany, Georgia. He was the son of poor parents. His life was a tragic story. He and his family were plagued by poverty. His mother had to bring up both him and his brother on her own. When he was five, he was witness to a mishap due to which his younger passed away after he drowned in a laundry tub.
Ray Charles started becoming blind when he was five. Two years later by age seven, he was completely blind. Though there is no confirmed reason, as to why he lost his sight, the two probable reasons why he could have lost his sight is either due to glaucoma (an optic nerve disease) or from an infection in his eyes from soap water that was not treated in time.
He studied in St Augustine School for the Deaf and The Blind. During his school years, tragedy stuck when his parents died - his father two years after his mother. Before he was out of school, he was able to write music and play a number of musical instruments. Well before he was out of school, he was gigging with bands which played varied styles of music. One such stunt with a band called The Florida Playboys is from where he caught on with the style of always wearing shades.
In 1947 at age 17, he moved to Seattle. He was signed to Swingtime Records and had his first hit Confession Blues with them in 1949. Confessing Blues was his only hit with Swingtime Records other than the 1951 recorded number Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand. Confession Blues reached the no 2 spot on the R&B charts.
In 1952, he signed with Ahmet Ertegun's record label Atlantic Records. He scored big early in the deal with two huge hits in 1953 - Mess Around (composed by Ahmed Ertegun) and It Should Have Been Me. His 1955 song I Got A Woman topped the charts. A string of hits - Drown in My Own Tears. This Little Girl of Mine, The Night Time (Is The Right Time), Mary Ann and Lonely Avenue - which were released all the way up to 1959. He conquered more group with his improvised hit What I'd Say when it made the top ten on the pop charts.
After four years with Atlantic, he got a better deal with ABC which made him switch labels. His time with ABC saw him make a successful crossover in pop music with Hit The Road Jack, Unchain My Heart and Georgia On My Mind. It was with the ABS that released the landmark album in 1962 Modern Sound in Country and Western Music and its sequel Vol. 2.
He was arrested of heroin possession in 1965. He managed to get himself out a jail sentence, by opting to go to rehab. While recuperating, he continued to have hits. Crying Time reached the No. 6 spot on the charts. Georgia On My Mind was made the state song of Georgia. He further etched himself into history by rendering America The Beautiful on TV - the version of the song which is the most revered.
In 1980, he made a cameo in the film The Blues Brothers. He appeared in a Coca Cola advertisement in the early 1990's and said "You Got the Right One Baby". He graced two Presidential occasions - Ronald Reagan's second and Bill Clinton's first inauguration.
Ray Charles continued to be active until his death on the 10th of June, 2004. In 2002, he was part of a Rome peace concert - the first event in the Colosseum since AD 404. Ray Charles was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame by his fan blues singer Van Morrison with whom he sang Moondance. He gave his last performance on the 30th of April, 2004 singing the two songs he is most known for - America The Beautiful and Georgia On My Mind, at the dedication ceremony of his music studio in Los Angeles.
His album aptly titled "Genius & Friends" was released two months after he passed away. It had him collaborating with many singers whom he personally choose. An album with the accompaniment of the Count Basie orchestra followed - Ray Sings, Basie Swings.
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