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Ray Charles Biography

Home > Music > C > Charles, Ray > Biography

Birth Name: Ray Charles Robinson
Born: 1930/09/23
Birth Place: Leesburg, Georgia, U.S.
Died: 2004/06/10
Years Active: 1947–2004
Genres: R&B, Soul, Rock And Roll, Blues, Jazz, Country, Pop, Gospel

Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004), better known by his shortened stage name Ray Charles, was an American musician. Ray was a pioneer in the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm & blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records.

He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his “Modern Sounds” albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company.

Almost immediately after signing with Atlantic, Charles scored his first hit singles. "Mess Around" was an R&B hit in 1953. "It Should Have Been Me" and "Don't You Know" both made the charts in 1954, but it was "I Got a Woman" (composed with band mate Renald Richard) which brought him to national prominence. The song reached the top of Billboard's R&B singles chart in 1955 and from there until 1959 he would have a series of R&B successes including "A Fool For You" (#1), This Little Girl of Mine," "Lonely Avenue," "Mary Ann," "Drown in My Own Tears" (#1) 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.”

In 1959, Charles crossed over to Top 30 radio with the release of his impromptu blues number, "What'd I Say", initially conceived while Charles was in concert. The song reached number one on the R&B list and would become Charles's 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-Paramount Records (later renamed ABC Records) in 1960 which gave Charles a higher royalty rate, complete artistic control and eventual ownership of the master tapes.

Hit songs such as "Georgia On My Mind" (US #1 Pop, #3 R&B), "Hit the Road Jack" (US #1 Pop and R&B), "One Mint Julep" (#8 Pop, #1 R&B) and "Unchain My Heart" (#9 Pop, #1 R&B) helped his 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.

His version of the Don Gibson song, “I Can't Stop Loving You” topped the Pop chart for five weeks and stayed at #1 R&B for ten weeks in 1962. It also gave him his only number one record in the UK.

In 1963, he founded his own record label, Tangerine Records which ABC-Paramount distributed. He also had major pop hits in 1963 with "Busted" (US #4) and “Take These Chains From My Heart” (US #8), and a Top 20 hit four years later, in 1967, with "Here We Go Again" (US #15). During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Charles's 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, and he performed it on the floor of the state legislature. He also had success with his unique version of "America the Beautiful.”

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.

Charles died on June 10, 2004 at 11:35 a.m. of liver cancer at his home in Beverly Hills, California, surrounded by family and friends. He was 73 years old.