The name “Ray Charles” is on a Star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. The name “Ray Charles” designates a superstar worldwide. His bronze bust is enshrined in the Playboy Hall of Fame. There is the bronze medallion that was cast and presented to him by the French Republic on behalf of the French people. In just about every Hall of Fame that has anything to do with music, be it Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll, Gospel or Country & Western, Ray’s name is very prominently displayed. There are many awards given to him in the foregoing categories as proof.
Probably the strongest element in Ray Charles’ life, and the most concentrated driving force, is music. Ray often says, “I was born with music inside me. That’s the only explanation I know.”
Ray Charles was not born blind. In fact, it took almost seven years for him to lose his sight in its entirety. He had seven years to see the joy and sadness of this big wonderful world — a world he would never see again. As a seven-year-old child, in searching for light, he stared at the sun continuously, thereby eliminating all chances of the modern-day miracle, cornea transplants — a miracle of surgery unheard of in 1937.
Perhaps the reason that Ray Charles has made music his mistress and fallen madly in love with the lady is that music came naturally to him. Ray sits at a piano and the music begins; he opens his mouth and the lyrics begin. He is in absolute control.
But the rest of his life was not quite so simple. Ray was born at the very beginning of the Great Depression — a depression that affected every civilized country in the world. Ray was born in 1930 in Albany, Georgia, the same year that another Georgia native by the name of Hoagy Carmichael, was already making his mark on the world. In 1930, the year of Ray’s birth, Hoagy recorded a song entitled “Stardust” that became an all-time classic and remains so to this day. It’s ironic that these two Georgia natives would someday cross paths again, as they did 30 years later when Ray Charles was asked by the State of Georgia to perform (in the Georgia Legislative Chambers) the song they had selected as their state song. That song was Ray’s version of “Georgia,” written by Hoagy Carmichael. Hoagy, who unfortunately was too ill to attend the event, was listening via telephone/satellite tie-up.
Ray’s mother and father, Aretha and Bailey, were “no-nonsense” parents. Even after Ray lost his sight, his mother continued to give him chores at home, in the rural area in which they lived, such as chopping wood for the wood burning stove in the kitchen in order for them to prepare their meals. Chores such as these often brought complaints from the neighbors, which were met with stern words from Mrs. Robinson. She told them her son was blind, not stupid, and he must continue to learn to do things, not only for himself, but for others as well. Unfortunately, Ray lost the guidance of his mother and the counseling of his father at a very young age. At 15 years old, Ray Charles was an orphan, but he still managed to make his way in this world under very trying conditions; living in the South and being of African-American heritage, plus being blind and an orphan.
Ray refused to roll over and play dead. Instead he continued his education at St. Augustine’s, Florida’s State School for the Deaf and Blind. A few years later, Ray decided to move. His choice was Seattle, Washington. It was in Seattle that Ray recorded his first record. It was also in Seattle that the seed was planted for a lifelong friendship with Quincy Jones. In 1962, Ray Charles formed his own record label, Tangerine Records, which ABC-Paramount Records promoted and distributed. In 1973 Ray Charles left ABC and closed Tangerine and started Crossover Records. Early singles labels were orange and later became black, red and white. Ray Charles Enterprises, Inc., now The Ray Charles Foundation, owns the catalog featuring notable releases such as The Raelettes who had many releases that sold well, Louis Jordan was also signed, as were Ike & Tina Turner, Percy Mayfield, The Ohio Players and Question Mark and the Mysterians just to name a few. Many of the later recordings are now sought after in "Northern Soul" circles. Many of Charles’ most notable hits are under Charles’ label. Charles was an astute business man. He was employed by his own company and signed under his own record label to ensure his creative control of his music.
In the decades since Seattle, Ray Charles has been making his contributions to the many facets of music in which he excels. His awards are too numerous to mention all of them, but we would like to acknowledge eight honorary doctoral degrees, seventeen Grammys, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, President’s Merit Award and his Playboy Awards. He has been recognized repeatedly by heads of State, Presidents, Premieres, Political Dignitaries and members of Royal families. He was chosen, by the King and Queen of Sweden to receive the Polar Music Award, which is that country’s most prestigious award and is, recognized the world over. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #10 on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and #2 on their list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”
In 1986, Mr. Charles created what is now known as “The Ray Charles Foundation” which is dedicated to providing support in the area of hearing disorders and the empowerment of young people through education by offering support to educational institutions and non-profit education programs. Ray Charles said: “The inability to hear is a handicap; not the inability to see.” The vision of The Ray Charles Foundation is to instill in the youth of America that “there is no challenge too great one cannot overcome.”
Ray Charles died on June 10, 2004, two months before the release of his final album “Genius Loves Company”, which sold over 5 million copies, earning 8 Grammy’s, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year and 4 months before the release of his Academy Award winning feature film Ray, portraying his life and career. Not only was the film critically acclaimed, but it earned more than $125 million worldwide, 54 wins and 42 nominations and landed Jamie Foxx an Academy Award for Best Actor. Ray remains the all-time number one bio-pic, both at the box office and in the manner it told the story of one of America’s greatest entertainers. He was 73 when he passed away.
On the 80th Birthday of Ray Charles, the unveiling of The Ray Charles Memorial Library was opened to share his legacy and to encourage and inspire our youth to embrace their creativity and stimulate their imagination. Ray’s library is the first to be built in an entertainer’s memory. The word “Library” means he has reached the American Dream as such Presidents of the United States of America. Ray Charles had already notched three #1 R&B hits by 1957. Also, Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters CD was released in October 2010. When the RARE GENIUS album appeared on the Billboard charts Hot 100, Ray Charles became the only singer to have released a never-before-heard recording that appeared on the Billboard charts in eight different decades. From his very first vocal performance that charted 1949’s “Confession Blues”, a cut that reached No. 2 on what was then called the Most-Played Juke Box Race Records chart (as the singer for The McSon Trio), all the way through the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and now the decade that started in 2010.
His biggest hit on the Hot 100 is "I Can't Stop Loving You," which spent five weeks at No. 1 in 1962. It also ranks as Charles' top single on this exclusive recap of his biggest Hot 100 hits. His other two Hot 100 No. 1s-"Hit the Road Jack" and "Georgia on My Mind" ranked at # 2 and 4 on the recap, respectively.
On Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, Charles' impact is just as impressive. He had 86 hits on the chart, including 11 chart-toppers, with "I Can't Stop Loving You" earning his longest reign at the top (10 weeks). Charles also snared a No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart in 1985, thanks to a duet with Willie Nelson, "Seven Spanish Angels." The single appears on Charles' duets album, "Friendship," which reached No. 1 on Top Country Albums. Speaking of country music, Charles' top Billboard 200 performance is "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," which logged 14 weeks atop the chart in 1962.
Ray Charles continues to make history. In 2013, Ray Charles received a United States Postal Stamp, noting the U.S. Postal Service, a nomination from the PR Platinum Award in the category of “Speeches” for Ray Charles Forever Stamp. Ray Charles’ Forever Album debuted at #5 on the R&B Albums Chart and #34 on Billboard’s top 200 Albums. Ten years since the death of Ray Charles his legacy continues to thrive through his music and his philanthropic works as the 10th Anniversary of Genius Loves Company has been rereleased. Little did anyone know in 2004 that one album would garner worldwide critical acclaim and also trigger an unprecedented chain of events. Ray Charles’ “Genius Loves Company” did just that. The 10th anniversary deluxe reissues “Celebration” featuring the full-length album, bonus tracks and special packaging along with a brand new, one-hour behind-the-scenes documentary on DVD. This made its debut at #1 on the Catalog R&B Albums Chart and ranked #47 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart in 2014. It is clear to say that RAY CHARLES is “AMERICA” in spite of any challenges, he persevered!
His legacy continues….