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Ray Charles

Ray Charles was born on 23/09/1930 in Albany, Georgia. His birth name was Ray Charles Robinson. He was the son of Bailey Robinson and Aretha Williams. Williams was a teenage orphan who was living with Robinson's mother and wife, Mary Jane Robinson in Greenville, Florida. When Williams became pregnant she moved to Albany, Georgia to stay with family for the birth. After Ray was born, he and his mother moved back to Greenville and lived with Mary Jane Robinson. His father would leave the family and took another wife. When Ray was 3, he would see Wylie Pitman play piano at his Red Wing Cafe. Pitman would teach Ray how to play the piano. Ray and his mother would even stay at the Cafe when they were experiencing financial difficulties and Pitman would look after Ray's brother George. George drowned in a laundry tub when he was four and Ray was five. Ray would start to lose his sight when he was 4 from glaucoma and would be completely blind by the age of 7. He attended Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St Augustine from 1937 to 1945. At the school, he learnt to read music using braille. He was taught classical music but was more interested in jazz, blues and country which he heard on the radio. Ray would play at socials at the school and would establish the group RC Robinson and the Shop Boys. During this time he performed on WFOY radio in St Augustine.
In 1945, Aretha died. Ray returned to school after the funeral but was expelled later in the year for playing a prank on a teacher. Ray moved to Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his mother. He played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre, LaVilla for over a year.
At the age of 16, he moved to Orlando. He was poor and would often go without food for days. He started to write arrangements for a pop music band.
In 1947, he unsuccessfully auditioned to play the piano for Lucky Millinder and his sixteen-piece band. Ray moved to Tampa where he worked for the seven-piece Charles Brantley's Honeydippers and for a white country band called The Florida Playboys. Around this time, Ray started to wear sunglasses by designer Billy Stickles. His first four recordings were supposedly made in Tampa though some discographies claim he recorded them in Miami in 1951 or Los Angeles in 1952.
In 1948, Ray moved to Seattle, Washington to try and form his own band. He followed his friend Gossie McKee. In Seattle, he became friends with Quincy Jones who was studying under Robert Blackwell. He started playing with his band McSon Trio at the Rocking Chair. The band included McKee on guitar and Milton Garrett on bass.
In 1949, the band recorded the song "Confession Blues". It reached number 2 on the Billboard R&B chart. Ray would also arrange songs for other artists such as Cole Porter's "Ghost of a Chance" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Emanon".
In 1950, Ray moved to Los Angeles and spent the next few years touring with blues musician Lowell Fulson as his musical director. Also in 1950, his performance at a Miami hotel would impress Henry Stone. Stone would later record a Ray Charles Rockin' record.
Ray joined Swing Time Records.
In 1951, Ray recorded the song "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand". He would record under the name Ray Charles.
In 1952, Charles released the song "Kissa Me Baby" with Swing Time Records. It reached number 8 on the charts. Swing Time would fold and Ahmet Ertegun signed Charles to Atlantic Records for $2500. He did his first recording session for Atlantic that year, though his last Swing Time release came out in 1953. He began recording jump blues and boogie-woogie as well as slower blues ballads.
In 1953, Charles had his first hit with Atlantic with the song "Mess Around".
In 1954, Charles had hits with "It Should Have Been Me" and "Don't You Know". Later in 1954, Charles recorded his own composition "I Got a Woman" which reached number 2 on the R&B chart.
In 1955, Charles had hits with "This Little Girl of Mine" and "A Fool for You".
In 1956, Charles recruited the female group the Cookies to be his backing group and renamed the Raelettes. He had used his wife and other musicians up till that point.
In 1957, Charles released the jazz album "The Great Ray Charles".
In 1958, Charles worked with Milt Jackson on his album "Soul Brothers".
By 1959, Charles reached the top ten on the Billboard chart with "What'd I Say". He had established himself as a major figure in R&B. Later in 1959, Charles released his first country song when he recorded a cover of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On". Also in 1959, Charles released the album "The Genius of Ray Charles". The album reached number 17 on the charts. His Atlantic contract expired in 1959 and he signed with ABC-Paramount Records.
In 1960, Charles released the jazz album "Genius + Soul = Jazz". Also in 1960, Charles had his first hit for ABC-Paramount with the song "Georgia on My Mind". He would receive four Grammy Awards with two being for "Georgia on My Mind".
In 1961, Charles appeared on Milt Jackson's album "Soul Meeting". Also in 1961, Charles released the jazz album "The Genius After Hours" and the blues album "The Genius Sings the Blues". In late 1961, whilst on tour, Charles' hotel room was searched by police and heroin was found in his medicine cabinet. The case was eventually dropped as the police did not have a proper warrant.
In 1962, Charles released the country albums "Modern Sound in Country and Western Music" and "Modern Sound in Country and Western Music Vol 2". Charles released the song "I Can't Stop Loving You" as a single which went to number 1 on the US Pop chart, number 1 on the R&B chart and would be number 1 on the UK charts (the only UK number 1 Charles had in his career). Also in 1962, Charles formed his own record label called Tangerine Records.
In 1963, Charles had hits with "Busted" and "Take These Chains From My Heart".
In 1965, Charles was arrested for the third time for heroin use. He agreed to go to rehab to avoid jail time.
In 1966, Charles had hits with the dance song "I Don't Need No Doctor" and the the R&B song "Let's Go Get Stoned". His cover of Buck Owen's "Crying Time" was a hit and would win a Grammy Award.
In 1967, Charles had a hit with the ballad "Here We Go Again".
By the 1970s, Charles was no longer enjoying as much chart success and was rarely played on the radio. He was no longer writing much new material as he was still earning money from owning his masters.
In 1972, Charles released the album "A Message from the People" which included a number of protest songs about poverty and civil rights.
In 1974, Charles left ABC Records and recorded on his own Crossover Records label.
In 1975, Charles recorded a version of Stevie Wonder's hit "Living for the City" which helped Charles win another Grammy.
In 1977, Charles rejoined Atlantic Records and recorded the album "True to Life". He would remain with Atlantic till 1980.
In 1979, Charles' song "Georgia on My Mind" was declared the state song for Georgia.
In 1980, Charles appeared in the film "The Blues Brothers".
In 1981, Charles performed at the Sun City resort, South Africa during an international boycott protesting South Africa's apartheid policy. Also in 1981, Charles was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1983, Charles signed with Columbia Records. He would record several country albums with them as well as hits with George Jones, Chet Atkins, B. J. Thomas, Mickey Gilley, Hank Williams, Jr., Dee Dee Bridgewater and his friend Willie Nelson.
In 1985, Charles contributed to the song "We Are the World" for the USA for Africa charity. Also in 1985, Charles performed at Ronald Reagan's second inauguration.
In 1986, Charles was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also given Kennedy Center Honors in the same year. Also in 1986, the Ray Charles Foundation was formed to support institutions and organisations in the research of hearing disorders.
In 1987, Charles was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1990, Charles, Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan had a hit with a cover of The Brothers Johnson's song "I'll Be Good to You". The song reached number 1 on the R&B chart. It also won Charles and Khan a Grammy Award.
In 1991, Charles was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.
In 1993, Charles released the album "My World". He also had a hit with a cover of Leon Russell's song "A Song for You". The song would win him his 12th Grammy. Charles was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1993. Also in 1993, Charles performed at Bill Clinton's inauguration.
In 1996, Charles released the album "Strong Love Affair".
In 1998, Charles was awarded the Polar Music Prize.
In 2001, Charles performed "America the Beautiful" at a World Series game a few weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
In 2002, Charles released the album "Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again".
In 2003, Charles performed at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C. Also in 2003, Charles was awarded an honorary degree by Dillard University.
In 2004, Charles made his final public appearance at the dedication of his music studio as a historic landmark in Los Angeles.
On 10/06/2004, Charles died of acute liver disease at his home in Beverly Hills, California. His final album "Genius Loves Company" was released two months after his death. It also featured B. B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Norah Jones and Johnny Mathis. The album won 8 Grammy Awards.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
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