Ray Charles was born on September 23, 1930. He was a legendary singer and songwriter, and also a prolific pianist and composer. To date, he is considered among the most iconic and extremely influential musicians to have ever lived. He was one of the founders of soul music in the 1950s and put together blues, R&B, jazz, and gospel together in an artful way that will forever be remembered. Charles made history as one of the first black musicians to have artistic control by a mainstream company, and we are truly humbled to be celebrating his life today with you.
Ray Charles Robinson Sr.
Brother Ray, The High Priest of Soul, Father of Soul, and The Genius of Soul.
September 23, 1930
June 10, 2004 (age 73)
Ray Charles Robinson Sr. was a gift to the music industry. He pioneered the freedom of expression that music offers today, and forever carved a name for himself within the greatest ones. Charles was born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia to his father, Bailey Robinson, and his mother, Aretha Robinson, to whom he was very dedicated. Her perseverance, self-sufficiency, and pride were always a guiding light in his life. His love for music was sparked early on, at the age of three, when he was at Wylie Pitman’s Red Wing Cafe and heard Pitman play “Boogie Woogie.” Pitman helped him learn how to play the piano and sometimes even helped the family enormously when things got financially tough.
Charles lost his sight gradually until the age of seven. His mother was determined to find a school for him and despite his protest, he was enrolled at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in 1937. In school, he kept working and deepening his knowledge of music. He learned how to play the classical piano using J.S. Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart’s music, and was also taught how to use braille music. His mother’s passing, in 1945, shook him to the core. He was 14 years old, and he decided not to return to school afterward. He relocated to Jacksonville and while there, he stayed with Charles Wayne Powell, a friend of his mother’s. Charles started his career by playing piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla. He also joined Local 632 of the musicians’ union for purposes of easy access to gigs. His reputation as a musician in Jacksonville grew in the process, but not as fast as one would think nowadays. When he was 16 years old, he moved to Orlando. As World War II was over and there were no soldiers to entertain, work was hard to find, but he eventually got lucky, writing arrangements for a pop music band in 1947. He later formed a band with Gossie McKee and Milton Garrett, and it was upward from there.
Today, he is a legend. He made history as one of the first black musicians to have full artistic control by a mainstream company. Charles has been a recipient of many awards and accolades, even after his death, including being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2022, he was initiated into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame.
The Genius plays the piano for Charles Brantley’s Honey Dippers, after moving to Tampa.
Charles and his band record “Confession Blues,” and it becomes his first national hit, ranking #2 on the Billboard R&B chart.
His version of "Georgia On My Mind" becomes his first hit to reach the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100.
Charles joins the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as one of the first inductees.
Charles is honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and ten of his songs make it to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
After his passing, Charles is initiated into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame.
Why We Love Ray Charles
He did not conform to his disability
Despite being blind, Charles led a normal life. Growing up, his mother treated him no differently from other kids, and even as an adult, he made no distinctions. He never wanted pity in his life and lived to become an icon.
He was philanthropic
He founded the Ray Charles Foundation to aid organizations and institutions in researching hearing disorders. Lending a helping hand to those in need is something to be praised and respected.
He was an activist
He fought against racism throughout his career. He even canceled a show at Bell Auditorium in Augusta after he learned that the dance floor was restricted only to white people, and black people were to sit in the Music Hall balcony.
5 Surprising Facts
He dropped his last name
He got rid of the “Robinson” last name to avoid being confused with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.
He played chess
He was really good at it, and once he even beat Willie Nelson three times in a row.
“Georgia On My Mind,” a national icon
The song was made the official state song of Georgia in 1979.
Music was his greatest passion
He was very vocal about it, too, even stating that “I was born with music inside me, music was one of my parts, like my blood.”
His art mixed secularism and religion
According to him, soul music meant a mixture of gospel and blues where feelings couldn’t be faked.
Ray Charles FAQs
Did Ray Charles have any hobbies?
Charles was interested in flying and wanted to buy his own airplane.
What was Ray Charles's favorite food?
He loved red beans and rice.
Who influenced Ray Charles?
His music has inspired other great names, such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley, and Billy Joel.
Ray Charles’s birthday dates