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Ray Charles 1930-2004
 


Country : Albany, GA
Profession : Musician
Date of birth : 1930-09-23
Date of death : 2004-06-10
Cause of Death : Liver failure

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jack_waldrop_ray_charles

Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004), known by his stage name Ray Charles, was a blind musician. He brought a soulful sound to country music and pop standards through his Modern Sounds recordings, as well as a rendition of "America the Beautiful" that Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes called the "definitive version of the song, an American anthem — a classic, just as the man who sang it." He also appeared in the 1980 hit movie, The Blues Brothers. Frank Sinatra called him "the only true genius in the business".

In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Charles number ten on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and also voted him number two on their November 2008 list of The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Biography

He was the son of Aretha Williams, a share cropper, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman. The family moved to Greenville, Florida, when Ray was an infant. Bailey had three more families, leaving Aretha to raise the family on her own.

Ray Charles was not born blind. He started to lose his sight at the age of five. He went completely blind by the age of seven. Charles never knew exactly why he lost his sight, though there are sources that suggest his blindness was due to glaucoma, and some other sources suggest that Ray began to lose his sight from an infection caused by soapy water to his eyes which was left untreated. He attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida from 1937-1945 where he developed his musical gift that he is known and remembered for today. His father died when he was ten, followed by his mother five years later.

Early career

In school, he was taught only classical music, but he wanted to play what he heard on the radio, jazz and blues. After his mother died, Charles did not return to school. He lived in Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his mother. For over a year, he played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. Charles moved to Orlando, then Tampa, where he played with a southern band called "The Florida Playboys". This is where Charles began his reputation of always wearing sunglasses that were made by designer Billy Stickles.

Charles had always played for other people, but he wanted a band that was his own. He decided to leave Florida for a large city, but Chicago and New York City were too big. He moved to Seattle in 1947 and soon started recording, first for the label Swing Time Records, achieving his first hit with the 1949 "Confession Blues". The song soared to #2 on the R&B charts. He followed his first recording with his only other hit with Swingtime, "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" in 1951. It hit #5 on the R&B charts. He then signed with Ahmet Ertegün at Atlantic Records a year later. When he entered show business, his name was shortened to Ray Charles to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.

Breakthrough period with Atlantic Records

Almost immediately after signing with Atlantic, Charles scored his first hit singles with the label with "It Should Have Been Me" and the Ertegün-composed "Mess Around", both making the charts in 1953. But it was Charles' "I Got A Woman" (composed with band mate Renald Richard) that brought the musician to national prominence.

The song reached the top of Billboard's R&B singles chart in 1955 and from there until 1959, Charles would have a series of R&B chart-toppers including "This Little Girl of Mine", "Lonely Avenue", "Mary Ann", "Drown in My Own Tears" and the #5 hit "The Night Time (Is the Right Time)", which were compiled on his Atlantic releases Hallelujah, I Love Her So, Yes Indeed!, and The Genius Sings the Blues. Charles was often cited for using his voice like a saxophone, most notably by the prominent critic Victor Bollo. During this time of transition, he recruited a young girl group from Philadelphia named The Cookies as his background singing group, recording with them in New York and changing their name to the Raelettes in the process.

Crossover success

 

In 1959, Charles crossed over to top 30 radio with the release of his impromptu blues number, "What'd I Say", which was initially conceived while Charles was in concert. The song would reach number 1 on the R&B list and would become Charles' first top ten single on the pop charts, peaking at number 6. Charles would also record The Genius of Ray Charles, before leaving Atlantic for a more lucrative deal with ABC Records in 1959.

Hit songs such as "Georgia On My Mind" (US #1), "Hit the Road Jack" (US #1) and "Unchain My Heart" (US #9) helped him transition to pop success and his landmark 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, helped to bring country into the mainstream of music. He also had major pop hits in 1963 with "Busted" (US #4) and "Take These Chains From My Heart" (US #8), and also scoring a Top 20 hit four years later, in 1967, with "Here We Go Again" (US #15) (which would later be duetted with Norah Jones in 2004).

Later years

In 1965, Charles was arrested for possession of heroin, a drug to which he had been addicted for nearly 20 years. It was his third arrest for the offense, but he avoided jail time after kicking the habit in a clinic in Los Angeles. He spent a year on parole in 1966, when his single "Crying Time" reached #6 on the charts.

During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Charles' releases were hit-or-miss, with some big hits and critically acclaimed work. His version of "Georgia On My Mind" was proclaimed the state song of Georgia on April 24, 1979, with Charles performing it on the floor of the state legislature. He also had success with his unique version of "America the Beautiful."

In November 1977 Charles appeared as the host of NBC's Saturday Night Live. In the 1980s a number of other events increased Charles' recognition among young audiences. He made a cameo appearance in the popular 1980 film The Blues Brothers. In 1985, "The Right Time" was featured in the episode "Happy Anniversary" of The Cosby Show on NBC. The next year in 1986, he sang America The Beautiful at Wrestlemania 2. In a Pepsi Cola commercial of the early 1990s, Charles popularized the catchphrase "You Got the Right One, Baby!" plus he helped in the song "We Are the World" a touching song for USA for Africa.

Despite his support of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s and his support for the American Civil Rights Movement, Charles courted controversy when he toured South Africa in 1981, during an international boycott of the country because of its apartheid policy.

In 1989, Charles recorded a cover version of the Japanese band Southern All Stars' song "Itoshi no Ellie" as "Ellie My Love" for a Suntory TV advertisement, reaching #3 on Japan's Oricon chart. Eventually, it sold more than 400,000 copies, and became that year's best-selling single performed by a Western artist for the Japanese music market.

Charles has also appeared at two Presidential inaugurations in his lifetime. In 1985, he performed for Ronald Reagan's second inauguration, and in 1993 performed for Bill Clinton's first inauguration.

In the late '80s and early '90s, Charles made appearances on The Super Dave Osbourne Show, where he performed and appeared in a few vignettes where he was somehow driving a car, often as Super Dave's chauffeur. At the height of his newfound fame in the early nineties, Charles did guest vocals for quite a few projects. He also appeared (with Chaka Khan) on long time friend Quincy Jones' hit "I'll Be Good to You" in 1990, from Jones' album Back on the Block.

Following Jim Henson's death in 1990, Ray Charles appeared in the one-hour CBS tribute, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson. He gave a short speech about the deceased, stating that Henson "took a simple song and a piece of felt and turned it into a moment of great power". Charles was referring to the song "It's Not Easy Being Green", which Charles later performed with the rest of the Muppet cast in a tribute to Henson's legacy.

During the sixth season of Designing Women, Ray Charles vocally performed "Georgia On My Mind", rather than the song being rendered by other musicians without lyrics as in the previous five seasons.

Final appearances

In 2000, Charles made a special guest appearance on Blue's Clues Big Musical Movie as a fictional character named G-Clef. The Persuasions also made a guest appearance as his companions. Charles recorded "There It Is" during and after filming with Steve Burns and Traci Paige Johnson. After recording, Charles commented "This has been the most fun I have had since I met President Reagan in '84."

In 2001 Charles played a memorable show in front of a sold out Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas, Venezuela.

In 2002 Charles headlined during the Blues Passions Cognac festival in southern France.

Charles, along with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall, paid a visit to Salt Lake City Tuesday night on Oct. 15. 2002 and played a benefit concert for the Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield 10th Annual Caring Foundation for Children Gala.

In 2002, he took part with other musicians in a peace concert in Rome, which was the first event to take place inside the city’s ancient Colosseum since A.D. 404. The event was organized in partnership with the Glocal Forum and the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation. Charles appeared with Travis Tritt on CMT Crossroads in December of that year.

In 2003, Ray Charles headlined the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, DC, at which President and Mrs. Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, were in attendance. He also presented one of his greatest admirers, Van Morrison, with his award upon being inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the two sang Morrison's song from the Moondance album, "Crazy Love". This performance is captured on Morrison's 2007 album, The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3.

On Friday, April 11, 2003, Ray Charles sang 'America The Beautiful' at Fenway Park in Boston, Friday, prior to the rained out Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles.

In 2003 Charles performed "Georgia On My Mind" and "America the Beautiful" at a televised annual electronic media journalist banquet held in Washington, D.C., at what may have been his final performance in public. Ray Charles' final public appearance came on April 30, 2004, at the dedication of his music studio as a historic landmark in the city of Los Angeles.

He died on June 10, 2004 of liver cancer at his home in Beverly Hills, California, surrounded by family and friends. His body was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

Susaye Greene, former member of Charles' Raelettes, as well as the Supremes and Wonderlove and currently a solo artist, was noted for being the only Raelette to sing at Ray Charles' funeral. After the funeral, the BBC said "it did not go unnoticed that Susaye was the only Raelette to sing at Ray's funeral."[citation needed]

His final album, Genius Loves Company, released two months after his death, consists of duets with various admirers and contemporaries: B.B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, and Johnny Mathis. The album won eight Grammy Awards, including five for Ray Charles for Best Pop Vocal Album, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones, and Best Gospel Performance for "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight; he also received nods for his duets with Elton John and B.B. King.

The album included a version of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow", sung as a duet by Charles and Johnny Mathis; that recording was later played at his memorial service.

Two more posthumous albums, Genius & Friends (2005) and Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006), were released. Genius & Friends consisted of duets recorded from 1997-2005 with artists who were personally chosen by Ray Charles. Ray Sings, Basie Swings consists of archived vocals of Ray Charles from live mid-1970's performances added to new instrumental tracks recorded by the contemporary Count Basie Orchestra and other musicians for this album. Charles' vocals recorded from the concert mixing board were added to new accompaniments to create a "fantasy concert" recording. Gregg Field, who had performed as a drummer with both Charles and Basie, produced this album.

Personal life

Charles was married twice and fathered 12 children by 9 different women. His first marriage to Eileen Williams was brief: July 31, 1951 to 1952. He had three children from his second marriage to Della Beatrice Howard Robinson from April 5, 1955 to 1977. His long term girlfriend and partner at the time of his death was Norma Pinella.

His children:

  • Born ~ 1950: Evelyn Robinson (to Louise Mitchell)
  • Born ~ 1955: Ray Charles Robinson, Jr. (to Della Robinson)
  • Born ~ 1958: David Robinson (to Della Robinson)
  • Born ~ 1959: Charles Wayne Hendricks (to Margie Hendricks)
  • Born ~ 1960: Reverend Robert Robinson (to Della Robinson)
  • Born ~ 1961: Raenee Robinson (to Mae Mosely Lyles)
  • Born ~ 1963: Sheila Raye Charles Robinson (to Sandra Jean Betts)
  • Born ~ 196?: Reatha Butler (unknown)
  • Born ~ 196?: Alexandria Bertrand (to Chantelle Bertrand)
  • Born ~ 1977: Vincent Kotchounian (to Arlette Kotchounian)
  • Born ~ 1978: Robyn Moffett (to Gloria Moffett)
  • Born ~ 1987: Ryan Corey Robinson den Bok (to Mary Anne den Bok)


Charles gave each of his 12 children $500,000.00 tax free in December 2002, distributed over 4 years.

Filmography

  • Swingin' Along (1961)
  • Ballad in Blue (1964)
  • The Big T.N.T. Show (1966) (documentary)
  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • Limit Up (1989)
  • Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones (1990) (documentary)
  • The Nanny (Sammy)
  • Love Affair (1994)
  • Spy Hard (1996)
  • Adv. Super Dave (2000)
  • Soul Deep

Biographical film


Charles was significantly involved in the biopic Ray, an October 2004 film which portrays his life and career between 1930 and 1966 and stars Jamie Foxx as Charles. Foxx won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Actor for the role.

Before shooting could begin, director Taylor Hackford brought Foxx to meet Charles, who insisted that they sit down at two pianos and play together. For two hours, Charles challenged Foxx, who revealed the depth of his talent, and finally, Charles stood up, hugged Foxx, and gave his blessing, proclaiming, "He's the one... he can do it."

Charles was expected to attend a showing of the completed film, but he died before it opened in theaters.

As noted in the film's final credits, Ray is based on true events, but includes some characters, names, locations, events which have been changed and others which have been "fictionalized for dramatization purposes." One example of the film's use of dramatic license are the scenes which refer to Charles as being temporarily banned from performing in Georgia.

The film's credits note that he is survived by 12 children, 21 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren.

Hall of Fame and other honors

Besides winning 17 Grammy Awards in his career (including five posthumously), Charles was also honored in many other ways. In 1979, he was one of the first honorees of the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame being recognized for being a musician born in the state. Ray's version of "Georgia On My Mind" was made into the official state song for Georgia. In 1981, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was one of the first inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural ceremony in 1986. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986. In 1987, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991, he was inducted to the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 1998 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize together with Ravi Shankar in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2004 he was inducted to the Jazz Hall of Fame, and inducted to the National Black Sports & Entertainment Hall of Fame Also in 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #10 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

The Grammy Awards of 2005 were dedicated to Charles.

On December 7, 2007, Ray Charles Plaza was opened in Albany, Georgia, with a revolving, lighted bronze sculpture of Charles seated at a piano.

On December 26, 2007, Ray Charles was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

Additionally, Charles was presented with the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, during the 1991 UCLA Spring Sing.

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