There are plenty of ups and downs in Ray Charles’ biography. This gifted musician overcame early hardships to emerge as one of the world's most beloved entertainers. Throughout more than a half-century, Charles became a legend in the music industry with his signature hybrid style. Even though Charles was blind, his career flourished thanks to his recognizable voice and piano prowess. This makes his remarkable biography even more admirable.
Early Life: Ray Charles was born on September 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia. His family moved to Florida when he was a baby. Charles’ musical beginnings can be traced to a neighborhood café, where he started on the piano at age five. When he was a year older, he began to lose his sight, and was completely blind by the time he was seven years old. Charles’ father died when he was 10, and his mother passed when he was 15. This turning point in Ray Charles’ biography set the stage for him to quit school and begin his life as a professional piano player.
Musical Beginnings: In the late 1940s, Charles drew comparisons to Nat King Cole with his blues and jazz-infused style. In the early 1950s, he began indulging in the boogie-woogie music that would bring him his first taste of success. Charles had hits early in the decade with “Mess Around” and “It Should Have Been Me.” By the time he signed with Atlantic Records in 1954, Charles had developed a unique sound that featured both blues and gospel influences. He closed out the decade with signature hits like “I’ve Got a Woman” and “What’d I Say.”
Career Growth: Ray Charles’ biography wouldn’t be as intriguing if he hadn’t tried experimenting with different styles. In addition to his jazz prowess, Charles made his mark on pop, country and big band genres as well. His songs “Georgia on My Mind” and “Hit the Road, Jack” have become pop music standards. In 1962, Charles released the album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” which sold more than a million copies.
Artistic Expansion: Charles was too talented to be known simply as a musician. He branched out into TV and film work, perhaps most famously in 1980’s “The Blues Brothers.” He formed the Tangerine record label in 1962, and Crossover Records in 1973. He co-authored his autobiography in 1978.
Accolades: Throughout his career, Ray Charles received 13 Grammy awards, one of them for lifetime achievement. In 1986, he capped off his career with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Kennedy Center Honor.
Death: Ray Charles died on June 10, 2004 in Beverly Hills, California. He was 73.