Ray Charles Biography

Ray Charles was a popular American singer, songwriter and was the discoverer of soul music. Go through this biography to learn more about his profile, childhood, life and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: September 23, 1930

Nationality: American

Famous: Quotes By Ray Charles Black Singers

Died At Age: 73

Sun Sign: Virgo

Also Known As: Ray Charles Robinson

Born in: Albany

Famous as: Singer and Composer

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Spouse/Ex-: Della Beatrice Howard, Elieen Williams

father: Bailey Robinson

mother: Aretha

siblings: George

children: Jr., Ray Charles Robinson

Died on: June 10, 2004

place of death: Beverly Hills

Diseases & Disabilities: Depression, Visual Impairment

U.S. State: Georgia

Founder/Co-Founder: Tangerine Records

More Facts

education: Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, St. Augustine, FL

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Ray Charles was the forerunner of soul music, assimilating other genres like gospel, pop, R&B and country to create a new form of music, that went on to produce hits like ‘Hit the Road Jack’, ‘Georgia On My Mind’ and ‘Unchain My Heart’. Considered the ‘Father of Soul Music’, Ray Charles left an indelible impression in the world of music that is still prevalent and enduring even after his death. Best-known for his secular lyrics and his popular jazz arrangements in music, his works were largely improvisational. Over his career that spanned nearly five decades, he inspired a number of other musicians and singer/songwriters. What made him an even bigger international star was the fact that he did not let his visual impairment get in the way of his music, his personal life and his career. He was a man who loved to shoulder responsibilities and was extremely friendly with his peers and other musicians. He is now remembered for his pleasing, amicable personality and is considered one of the ‘Godfathers’ of soul music. From ‘Confession Blues’ to ‘What’d I Say’, his songs went on to chart some of the most popular international countdowns and continue to reverberate in the world of music today. Scroll further for more.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Ray Charles Robinson was born to Aretha and Bailey Robinson in Albany, Georgia.
  • He was diagnosed with glaucoma at a very young age and by the age of seven he had become completely blind. He studied at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind from 1937 to 1945, during which time, he honed his musical skills.
  • By the time he was 15 years old, both his parents were dead and he was orphaned, but he did not let these personal losses deter him from pursuing a musical career.
  • In school, he had shown great interest in learning jazz and blues music as he was taught only classical music. He later worked as a register boy under the direction of a girl at a drug store, in Tallahassee.
  • He joined a number of local bands at Tallahassee, which further heightened his interest in music such as the ‘Florida A&M University Student Band’ and the ‘Adderley Brothers’. He was soon noticed for his musical talent and he began performing in a number of clubs and was even invited for the Governor’s Ball.
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  • He moved to Seattle in 1947 and became a member of the ‘Maxin Trio’ along with Milton Garrett and G.D. McKee. The trio recorded their first song together under the ‘Down Beat Label’ titled, ‘Confession Blues’. The song went on to become an R&B hit.
  • In 1951, he signed a deal with ‘Swing Time Records’ and recorded another hit single, ‘Let Me Hold Your Hand’ followed by ‘Kissa Me Baby’ the subsequent year. After the success of these two singles, he was signed on by Atlantic Records.
  • His first hit with Atlantic Records came in 1953 when he recorded, ‘Mess Around’. He then recorded a number of other singles including ‘It Should Have Been Me’ and ‘Don’t You Know’.
  • In 1954, he recorded his own composition, ‘I Got a Woman’ and the song went on to become his first No. 1 hit the next year, which got him noticed nationally. He continued to record singles like, ‘This Little Girl of Mine’, ‘Drown in my Own Tears’, ‘Lonely Avenue’ and ‘The Night Time (Is the Right Time)’.
  • In 1956, he formed his own ‘female-singing group’ called ‘Cookies’ who later came to be known as ‘The Raelettes’.
  • In 1957, he released his debut album with Atlantic Records which was a self-titled album. The same year, he released the instrumental album, ‘The Great Ray Charles’.
  • He touched the zenith of success after he released the single, ‘What’d I Say’, in 1959, which was released in two parts. The song became a huge hit because he finally broke into crossover mainstream pop music. Later, the same year, he released his first cover of a country song, ‘Movin’ On’.
  • He recorded a live album in 1960 titled, ‘Ray Charles in Prison’. The same year, he produced the hit single ‘Georgia on my Mind’ in his hit concept album, ‘The Genius Hits the Road’. It was during this time, he signed a lucrative deal with ABC-Paramount Records.
  • In 1960, he also recorded one of his most popular singles, ‘Hit the Road Jack’ with the ‘Raelettes’ vocalist, Margie Hendricks. It topped all R&B charts and is currently considered one of his greatest works.
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  • This was followed by three more albums in 1961 titled, ‘The Genius Sings in the Blues’, ‘Soul Meeting’ and ‘The Genius After Hours’.
  • By 1962, Ray Charles had considerable influence over the world of music considering he was one of the few black artists at the time who managed to earn such rapid popularity.
  • In that year, he recorded the album, ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’ and its sequel, ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volume Two’. That year, he also founded his own record label, ‘Tangerine Records’.
  • From 1963 to 1968, he released a string of albums were not as successful due to the advent of psychedelic rock, which decreased his appeal. These included ‘Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul’, ‘Sweet & Sour Tears’, ‘Have a Smile with Me’, ‘Crying Time’, ‘Ray’s Moods’ and ‘A Portrait of Ray’.
  • Nonetheless, he actively continued to record songs and released the 1972 album, ‘Message from the People’, which included the hit, ‘America the Beautiful’. Two years later, he left ABC Records.
  • He re-signed to Atlantic Records in 1977 and recorded, ‘True to Life’. The same year, he appeared in an episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’. Two years later ‘Georgia on My Mind’ was proclaimed the song of Georgia.
  • In 1980, he appeared in the film, ‘The Blues Brothers’. Three years later, he signed a record deal with Columbia Records and began to record a string of country hits with musicians like B.J. Thomas, George Jones and Chet Atkins.
  • In 1984, he recorded the single ‘Seven Spanish Angels’ which would go on to become his most popular country single. The next year, he was seen performing at Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration.
  • In 1991, his catch-phrase, ‘You Got the Right One, Baby’ would make him an international star in the Diet Pepsi commercials. Two years later, he performed for the inauguration of Bill Clinton.
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  • He was seen in four episodes of the popular TV series, ‘The Nanny’ from 1997 to 1998. In the new millennium, he appeared in a number of commercials for the ‘New Jersey Lottery’.
  • In 2002, he released the album, ‘Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again’, followed by ‘Ray Charles Celebrates a Gospel Christmas with the Voices of Jubilation’ and ‘Live at Olympia 2000’, two years later .
  • He made his last public appearance during the dedication of his music atelier as a significant landmark in Los Angeles on April 30, 2004.
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Major Works
  • ‘Georgia on my Mind’ is a single that was released for his 1960 album, ‘The Genius Hits the Road’. After this record was released, it became extremely successful and was covered by a number of artistes including Billie Holiday, Coldplay and Van Morrison to name a few. The song also became the state song of Georgia in 1979.
  • ‘Hit the Road Jack’, another one of his singles released in 1960 went on to become one of his greatest works. It stayed at the No. 1 position for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and also earned him a Grammy Award. The song is regarded as one of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ by the ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine.
Awards & Achievements
  • In 1987, he was presented the ‘Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award’.
  • In 1991, he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.
  • He was honored with the National Medal of Arts in 1993.
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  • He was inducted into the National Black Sports & Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2004.
  • The Grammy Awards in 2005 were all dedicated to Ray Charles.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • He married Eileen Williams in 1951 but divorced her the following year.
  • In 1955, he married Della Beatrice Howard Robinson. The marriage lasted for two decades.
  • Apart from his two marriages, he was in a relationship with Norma Pinella, who stayed with him until his death. He had 12 children in total with ten different women.
  • In 1961, he was arrested after marijuana, heroin and other drugs were seized from his room. He was addicted to drugs during his lifetime and he responded to this addiction in comeback songs like ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ and ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’.
  • Apart from music, he liked playing chess.
  • He passed away due to liver failure in his Beverly Hills home in California. He was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery. After his death, two of his posthumous albums, ‘Genius & Friends’ and ‘Ray Sings, Basie Swings’ were released.
  • In 2004, a biopic was made on his life titled ‘Ray’. Three years later, the ‘Ray Charles Plaza’ was opened in Albany, Georgia.
  • The ‘Father of Soul Music’ used his visual disability in his favor and turned it into a fashionable statement. He was always seen wearing his trademark black sunglasses.


Grammy Awards
2006 Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media Ray (2004)
2005 Best Gospel Performance Winner
2005 Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) Winner
2005 Record of the Year Winner
2005 Album of the Year Winner
2005 Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals Winner
2005 Best Pop Vocal Album Winner
1991 Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals Winner
1987 Best Historical Album Winner
1976 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Winner
1967 Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Male or Female Winner
1967 Best Rhythm & Blues Recording Winner
1964 Best Rhythm & Blues Recording Winner
1963 Best Rhythm & Blues Recording Winner
1962 Best Rhythm & Blues Recording Winner
1961 Best Vocal Performance Album, Male Winner
1961 Best Vocal Performance Single Record or Track, Male Winner
1961 Best Rhythm & Blues Performance Winner
1961 Best Performance By A Pop Single Artist Winner

See the events in life of Ray Charles in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Ray Charles Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- July 27, 2017
Ray Charles

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