Ray Charles Robinson was born September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. By the age of five, Robinson had begun to lose his eyesight. By the age of seven, he was completely blind. His mother sent him to the St. Augustine School of the Deaf and Blind, a racially segregated school in Florida. There, Robinson learned how to be self-sufficient despite his impairment.
While attending the St. Augustine School of the Deaf and Blind, Robinson learned how to play the piano. He specifically learned how to play classical and jazz music. He returned home and by the time he was 15, his mother died. Now living on his own, he moved to Seattle, Washington where he pursued a career in music.
By 1948, Robinson had become a professional musician. He shortened his name to Ray Charles and performed everywhere under that abridged name. By the age of 20, he had become a sensation in the clubs along Jackson Street in Seattle.
In 1952, Charles signed a contract with Atlanta Records. Initially, his musical style echoed that of Nat King Cole. By 1955, however, he recorded the gospel-inspired track, I Got A Woman. That song became his first hit. He had successfully crossed over from performing as a soft jazz artist to one of the biggest R&B singers in the world.
In the early 1960s, Charles exhibited his versatility as a musician. He recorded R&B, soul, pop, and country and western-inspired hits. One of those hits was Georgia. His song would later be adopted by the state of Georgia as their state song. In 1963, he used his celebrity to aid the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to financially backing MLK and writing protest songs, he refused to play before segregated audiences.
At the height of his career, Charles stepped out of the limelight for a year. In 1965, he was arrested on drug charges. He then set out to beat his addiction to heroin. After overcoming his addiction, he returned to his career.
Charles recorded and performed well into the 1990s. He won several Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The French Republic granted him a bronze medal for his contribution to world music. Ray Charles Robinson died June 10, 2004. He was 73 years old.
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