Ray Charles Robinson Sr. (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004) was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. He is regarded as one of the most iconic and influential singers in history, and was often referred to by contemporaries as “The Genius”. Among friends and fellow musicians he preferred being called “Brother Ray”. Charles was blinded during childhood, possibly due to glaucoma.
Charles pioneered the soul music genre during the 1950s by combining blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel styles into the music he recorded for Atlantic Records. He contributed to the integration of country music, rhythm and blues, and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, notably with his two Modern Sounds albums. While he was with ABC, Charles became one of the first black musicians to be granted artistic control by a mainstream record company.
Charles’s 1960 hit “Georgia On My Mind” was the first of his three career No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. His 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music became his first album to top the Billboard 200. Charles had multiple singles reach the Top 40 on various Billboard charts: 44 on the US R&Bsingles chart, 11 on the Hot 100 singles chart, 2 on the Hot Country singles charts.
Charles cited Nat King Cole as a primary influence, but his music was also influenced by Louis Jordan and Charles Brown. He had a lifelong friendship and occasional partnership with Quincy Jones. Frank Sinatra called Ray Charles “the only true genius in show business,” although Charles downplayed this notion.Billy Joel said, “This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley“.
For his musical contributions, Charles received the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, and the Polar Music Prize. He was one of the inaugural inductees at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He has won 18 Grammy Awards (5 posthumously), the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987, and 10 of his recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone ranked Charles No. 10 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time,and No. 2 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2022, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame.
Ray Charles Robinson was born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. He was the son of Bailey Robinson, a laborer, and Aretha (or Reatha) Robinson (née Williams), a laundress, of Greenville, Florida.
During Aretha’s childhood, her mother died. Her father could not keep her. Bailey, a man her father worked with, took her in. The Robinson family—Bailey, his wife Mary Jane, and his mother— informally adopted her and Aretha took the surname Robinson. A few years later 15-year-old Aretha became pregnant by Bailey. During the ensuing scandal, she left Greenville late in the summer of 1930 to be with family back in Albany. After the birth of the child, Ray Charles, she and the infant Charles returned to Greenville. Aretha and Bailey’s wife, who had lost a son, then shared in Charles’s upbringing. The father abandoned the family, left Greenville, and married another woman elsewhere. By his first birthday, Charles had a brother, George. Later, no one could remember who George’s father was.