Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004), known by his shortened stage name Ray Charles, was an American musician. He was a pioneer in the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records.He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his Modern Sounds albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Frank Sinatra called Charles “the only true genius in show business.”
Ray Charles Robinson was the son of Aretha Williams, a sharecropper, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman. Aretha Williams was a devout Christian and the family attended the New Shiloh Baptist Church.When Ray was an infant, his family moved from Albany, Georgia, where he was born, to the poor black community on the western side of Greenville, Florida. In his early years, Charles showed a curiosity for mechanical things and he often watched the neighborhood men working on their cars and farm machinery. His musical curiosity was sparked at Mr. Wiley Pit’s Red Wing Cafe when Pit played boogie woogie on an old upright piano. Pit would care for George, Ray’s brother, so as to take the burden off Williams. However, George drowned in the Williams’ wash tub when he was four years old.
Charles started to lose his sight at the age of five. He 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. During this time he performed on WFOY radio in St. Augustine. His father died when he was 10 and his mother died five years after.
In school, Charles was taught only classical music, but he wanted to play the jazz and blues he heard on the family radio. While at school, he became the school’s premier musician. On Fridays, the South Campus Literary Society held assemblies where Charles would play piano and sing popular songs. On Halloween and Washington’s birthday, the Colored Department of the school had socials where Charles would play. It was here he established “RC Robinson and the Shop Boys” and sang his own arrangement of “Jingle Bell Boogie.” He spent his first Christmas at the school, but later the staff pitched in so that Charles could return to Greenville, as he did each summer.
Henry and Alice Johnson, who owned a store not unlike Mr. Pit’s store in Greenville, moved to the Frenchtown section of Tallahassee, just west of Greenville; and they, as well as Freddy and Margaret Bryant, took Charles in. He worked the register in the Bryants’ store under the direction of Lucille Bryant, their daughter. It’s said he loved Tallahassee and often used the drug store delivery boy’s motorbike to run up and down hills using the exhaust sound of a friend’s bike to guide him. Charles found Tallahassee musically exciting too and sat in with the Florida A&M University student band. He played with the Adderley brothers, Nat and Cannonball, and began playing gigs with Lawyer Smith and his Band in 1943 at the Red Bird Club and DeLuxe Clubs in Frenchtown and roadhouse theatres around Tallahassee, as well as the Governor’s Ball. Main Source: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia