Facts About Ray Charles

What You May Not Know About Ray Charles

Born in Albany, Georgia, during the depression, and blind by the age of seven, Ray Charles Robinson certainly had the deck stacked against him from the beginning. But as he himself said, Ray wasn't good because he was blind; Ray was good because he was good. Influenced by both the pop vocal stylings of crooners like Nat King Cole and the smooth West Coast Blues of Charles Brown, Ray started off cutting rather unadventurous (yet still exciting) jump blues and R&B in New Orleans.

But it was musical wanderlust that would lead to the two great milestones of his career. In 1959, the singer consolidated his gospel and blues influences (which he'd already marshaled on cuts like "I Got A Woman") for a raveup called "What'd I Say:" it's widely regarded now as the first hit soul record, sophisticated yet sensual, relentlessly secular yet burning with a religious fervor. In 1962, he cemented his legacy by releasing the "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music" LP, which somehow infused soul into C&W standards like "Born To Lose" and "I Can't Stop Loving You."

Arguably one of the most brilliant interpretive albums ever released, it did more to integrate modern American music than almost any other LP in history. And although he more or less settled into an oldies-circuit level of fame after that, he remains an institution for his insistence on carrying different forms of music to places they shouldn'’t logically have visited.

How Did Ray Charles Become Blind?

Although the young Ray began to lose his sight at the age of five, not long after witnessing his brother's drowning, his eventual blindness by the age of seven was medical, not traumatic. Most medical experts agree glaucoma was the culprit, although growing up in Ray's time and place, not to mention economic background, no one will ever be able to say for sure.

Still, his blindness never stopped him from learning to ride a bike, play cards, use stairs, or even fly an airplane. Charles merely used his other senses; he judged distances by sound, and learned to sharpen his memory. He refused to use a seeing-eye dog or a cane, although he did require some help from his personal assistant on tour. Ray did, however, seem to believe that his disability exempted him from income taxes, a belief that caused him a great deal of trouble with the IRS.

Marriages and Children

Ray Charles had two wives during his lifetime, and fathered twelve children, the first without his knowledge. Ray's first marriage lasted only a year, and is not even mentioned in the movie "Ray" as a result; his second marriage, to backup singer Della Beatrice Howard Robinson, lasted 22 years. This does not mean that Charles was faithful to either... he was well-known for his philandering, introducing himself to women he liked by pretending to be more helpless than he was. The marriages Guide at About.com (actually a married couple!) lists all of Ray's children and their mothers at their marriages of Ray Charles page.

#1 Hits

Pop: "Georgia On My Mind," "Hit The Road, Jack," "I Can't Stop Loving You" R&B: "I've Got A Woman," "A Fool for You," "Drown In My Own Tears," "Mary Ann," "What'd I Say (Part I)," "Hit The Road, Jack," "One Mint Julep," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "You Are My Sunshine," "Unchain My Heart," "Let's Go Get Stoned" Country: "Seven Spanish Angels"

Top 10 Hits

Pop: "What'd I Say (Part I)," "One Mint Julep," "Unchain My Heart," "You Don't Know Me," "You Are My Sunshine," "Busted," "Take These Chains From My Heart," "Crying Time" R&B: "Blackjack," "Greenbacks," "This Little Girl Of Mine," "Hallelujah I Love Her So," "Lonely Avenue," "What Would I Do Without You," "Ain't That Love," "Night Time Is the Right Time," "Georgia On My Mind," "Sticks And Stones," "I've Got News For You," "Ruby," "Them That Got," twelve more Country: "We Didn't See a Thing"