American musician Ray Charles was born September 23, 1930. His musical curiosity was first sparked when he heard boogie woogie played on an old upright piano. Charles started to lose his sight at the age of five & went completely blind by the age of seven, apparently due to glaucoma. He attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine from 1937 to 1945, where he developed his musical talent and performed on WFOY radio in St. Augustine. In school, Charles was taught only classical music, but wanted to play the jazz and blues. While at school, he became the school’s premier musician.Charles was 15 When his mother died. He didn’t return to school, preferring instead, to play the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. He also played with a southern band called The Florida Playboys. This is where he began his habit of always wearing sunglasses, made by designer Billy Stickles. Charles had always played for other people, but he wanted his own band, so He decided to leave Florida and moved to Seattle in 1947 (where he first met and befriended a 14-year-old Quincy Jones, and soon started recording, first for the Down Beat label as the Maxin Trio with guitarist G.D. McKee and bassist Milton Garrett.
By fusing elements of rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings he became a pioneer in the genre of soul music and achieved his first hit with “Confession Blues” in 1949 and joined Swing Time Records where he recorded, “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand” and “Kissa Me Baby”. In 1953 Charles began recording jump blues and boogie-woogie style recordings as well as slower blues ballads where he continued to show the vocal influences of Nat “King” Cole and Charles Brown. “Mess Around” became Charles’ first Atlantic hit in 1953 followed by “It Should Have Been Me” and “Don’t You Know”. He also recorded the songs, “Midnight Hour” and “Sinner’s Prayer”. Late in 1954, Charles recorded his own composition, “I Got a Woman”, and the song became Charles’ first number-one R&B hit in 1955 and included a mixture of gospel, jazz and blues elements that would later prove to be seminal in the development of rock ‘n’ roll and soul music. He repeated this pattern throughout 1955 continuing through 1958 with records such as “This Little Girl of Mine”, “Drown in My Own Tears”, “Lonely Avenue”, “A Fool For You” and “The Night Time (Is the Right Time)”.Charles also recorded instrumental jazz albums such as 1957′s The Great Ray Charles. During this time, Charles also worked with jazz vibraphonist Milt Jackson, releasing Soul Brothers in 1958 and Soul Meeting in 1961 and reached the pinnacle of his success at Atlantic with the release of “What’d I Say”. Later in 1959, and released his first country song, a cover of Hank Snow’s “Movin’ On”, and had recorded three more albums for the label including a jazz record (later released in 1961 as The Genius After Hours), a blues record (released in 1961 as The Genius Sings the Blues) and a traditional pop/big band record (The Genius of Ray Charles).
In 1960 Charles received national acclaim and a Grammy Award for the Sid Feller- produced “Georgia on My Mind”, and also earned another Grammy for the follow-up “Hit the Road Jack”, and became one of the few black artists to crossover into mainstream pop. The 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, also helped to bring country into the mainstream of music. He also had major pop hits in 1963 with “Busted” (US No. 4) and Take These Chains From My Heart. In 1965, Charles’ was arrested for a third time for heroin and After spending a year on parole, Charles reemerged on the charts in 1966 with a series of hits including “I Don’t Need No Doctor” , “Let’s Go Get Stoned”, “Crying Time” and “Here We Go Again”. However, Charles’ renewed chart success, proved to be short lived and by the late 1960s his music was rarely played on radio stations, although Charles’ 1972 album, Message from the People, was a hit and included his unique gospel- influenced version of “America the Beautiful” and His 1975 recording of Stevie Wonder’s hit, “Living for the City” later helped Charles win another Grammy.In 1977, he recorded the album, True to Life and In April 1979, Charles’ version of “Georgia On My Mind” was proclaimed the state song of Georgia and An emotional Charles performed the song on the floor of the state legislature.
During the 1980′s Charles recorded a string of country albums and began having a string of country hits often with duet singers such as George Jones, Chet Atkins, B.J. Thomas, Mickey Gilley, Hank Williams, Jr. and lifelong friend Willie Nelson, for which he recorded the No. 1 country duet, “Seven Spanish Angels”. He also made a return on the R&B charts with a cover of The Brothers Johnson’s “I’ll Be Good to You”, in collaboration with his lifelong buddy Quincy Jones and singer Chaka Khan, which hit number-one on the R&B charts in 1990 and won Charles and Khan a Grammy. Charles returned on the pop charts in another duet, with singer Billy Joel on the song, “Baby Grand” and in 1989, recorded a cover of the Southern All Stars’ “Itoshi no Ellie”, releasing it as “Ellie My Love”. Charles’ 1993 album, My World also became his first album in some time to reach the Billboard 200 and his cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” gave him a charted hit on the adult contemporary chart as well as his twelfth and final Grammy he would receive in his lifetime. In 1980, he also made a cameo on the film, The Blues Brothers.Charles’ version of “Night Time is the Right Time” was also played during the popular “Cosby Show” episode, “Happy Anniversary” and In 1985, he appeared among a slew of other popular musicians in the USA for Africa charity recording, “We Are the World”. Charles also appeared at two Presidential inaugurations in his lifetime. In 1985, he performed for Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration, and in 1993 for Bill Clinton’s first. In 2003, Ray Charles also headlined the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C. where the President, First Lady, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice attended. In 2003 Charles performed “Georgia On My Mind” and “America the Beautiful” at a televised annual electronic media journalist banquet held in Washington, D.C. His final public appearance came on April 30, 2004, at the dedication of his music studio as a historic landmark in the city of Los Angeles.
Charles sadly passed away on June 10, 2004 as a result of liver failure/hepatitis C at his home. He was 73 years old. His body was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery.His final album, Genius Loves Company, released two months after his death, consists of duets with various admirers and contemporaries: B.B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, and Johnny Mathis. The album won eight Grammy Awards, including five for Ray Charles for Best Pop Vocal Album, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “Here We Go Again” with Norah Jones, and Best Gospel Performance for “Heaven Help Us All” with Gladys Knight; he also received nods for his duets with Elton John and B.B. King. The album included a version of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow”, sung as a duet by Charles and Johnny Mathis; this record was played at his memorial serviceTwo more posthumous albums, Genius & Friends and Ray Sings, Basie Swings, were released. Genius & Friends consisted of duets recorded from 1997 to 2005 with his choice of artists. Ray Sings, Basie Swings consists of archived vocals of Ray Charles from live mid-1970s performances added to new instrumental tracks specially recorded by the contemporary Count Basie Orchestra and other musicians. Charles’s vocals recorded from the concert mixing board were added to new accompaniments to create a “fantasy concert” recording. The late great Frank Sinatra called Charles “the only true genius in show business” and Rolling Stone ranked Charles number ten on their list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” in 2004, and number two on their November 2008 list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”.