"I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me-like food or water."

Happy birthday Ray Charles!

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Ray Charles (September 23, 1930—June 10, 2004) was an American songwriter and musician. He fused rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles. Some of his best known songs include "Mess Around," "What I'd Say," "Georgia on My Mind," and "Hit the Road Jack."

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Charles was born in Albany, Georgia to Aretha and Bailey Robinson. His family was poor, his mother working as a sharecropper and his father as a mechanic and repair man. They eventually moved to Greenville, Florida. Charles experienced the traumatic event of witnessing his younger brother drown in a laundry tub when he was a child.

Charles' sight began to wane at a young age. By the time he was seven years old, he lost it completely. His mother arranged for him to attend the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. There, he learned to read and write music in Braille. He also learned to play piano, organ, sax, clarinet and trumpet. He became the school's best musician, and would play piano and sing at assemblies.

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His father died when he was 10 and his mother when he was 15. He moved in with friends of his mother in Jacksonville and while there, played at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. Before long, Charles went on tour on the "Chitlin' Circuit" in the South. While he was on the road, he began to use heroin.

Charles then decided he wanted to move as far from Florida as he could and landed in Seattle. Once there, he began recording with Downbeat Records. He scored his first hit with "Confession Blues" in 1949. He followed with "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" and "Kissa Me Baby."

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By 1953, Charles signed a deal with Atlantic Records. Some of his early hits on Atlantic included "Mess Around," "Midnight Hour," and "Sinner's Prayer."

In 1954, Charles recorded "I Got a Woman." Though many of his other songs had made it onto the R&B charts, this was the first to skyrocket to no. 1. His fusion of gospel and R&B was novel, and this song marked a transition away from his imitations of Nat King Cole and onto a new genre altogether called soul.

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Charles went on to a new height with "What I'd Say," translating his success onto the pop charts.

In 1959, Charles moved to ABC-Paramount. During the following years, he produced the successes "Georgia on My Mind" and "Hit the Road Jack", which earned Charles his first Grammys.

In 1962, Charles released Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. (Image source)

By the mid-1960s, Charles' heroin use began to affect his career—he was arrested for the third time in 1965. His popularity began to wane in the late 1960s.

In 1983, Charles signed with Columbia Records and produced a series of country albums. By this point, his performance career was highlighted by appearances in movies (such as in The Blues Brothers in 1980) and at events, including at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. He continued to perform on momentous occasions throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1979, "Georgia on My Mind," was made Georgia's state song.

 

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 23 September 2014
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