Ray Charles Overcame His Disability and Inspired Us All

By Diana Robinson

Ray Charles was a musician and a songwriter. He was born September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. Ray had a passion for music ever since the age of three. Ray Charles grew up with both parents and one other sibling, his brother George. At the age of four, George (Ray’s brother) drowned in his mother’s laundry tub. Ray Charles was the only person to witness to what happened to his brother, but he never thought his brother’s death would affect him later in life. Ray Charles was starting to lose eye sight at the age of five, and went completely blind in both eyes at seven years of age.

Ray went to a school that was for the deaf and for the blind from 1937-45, in St. Augustine. That is also where Ray developed his talent for music.

 Ray Charles grew up listening to gospel, jazz and blues, but his school only taught classical. Becoming really good in playing the piano, Ray would practice and practice every day after school; until he became “the schools premiere musician.”

Ray soon became great at playing vocals, also saxophone and the keyboards, as well as the trombone. Back in the 1950s, people were calling Ray Charles a “pioneer” because he mastered rhythm and blues as well as gospel and combining both to create soul music. Everyone loved him then. Ray Charles’ father died when he was ten years old and a few years later, his mother died as well. So Ray grew up with friends of his parents that took him in.

Ray Charles moved around a lot. Wherever he would go, he would always find a job playing music. Ray Charles played with the southern band that was called “The Florida Playboys.” Then he started searching for his own band. Ray worked with a few record labels before coming to Atlantic Records. “The Midnight Hour” and “Roll With My Baby” became hits. And don’t forget “Mess Around;” that song was actually the first number one song as a vocalist and a blues ballad. Ray Charles cut his first live album at the Newport Festival. And in 1956, Ray Charles put together his first female group called “The Cookies,” then later developed the female singer group into “The Raelettes.” Having great success with Atlantic Records, Charles moved onto further his talent in other areas but also to increase the money earned from his music. Ray started singing pop music and country music, and later helped racially integrate music.

After singing with ABC records, Ray Charles became one of the first African American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Ray Charles was called the only true genius in show business by Frank Sinatra.

 The influence upon Ray Charles music background was individuals like Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Charles Brown. Rolling Stone ranked Charles number ten out of one hundred greatest musicians of all time in 2004.

 Ray Charles became a legend everywhere, back then and still today with his versatile musical talents. Ray was married six times and had twelve kids with nine different women. Back in 1961 to 1964, Ray really started struggling with heroin addiction and marijuana uses and it almost destroyed his career. He was arrested about three times for the same crime, heroin use, and then sent to rehab. Ray Charles never did drugs again.

 Ray Charles died June 10, 2004 due to liver failure in Beverly Hills, California. Ray Charles let everyone know that a disability may slow you down, but you keep moving forward. Fight for what you believe and want in life. Follow your dreams and take care of your family.

Ray Charles used to always listen to music growing up and watching the church choir or musician/ band leader play at places around his neighborhood. Ray Charles and I are blind in both eyes.  We share our love for our children, and I was inspired how he took care of his kids. It takes anyone time to get adjusted to their disability, but we both did it.      

Copyright Street Chronicle/NEOCH FEBRUARY 2014 Cleveland OHIO