Ray Charles (Ray Charles Robinson, Albany, Georgia, September 23, 1930 – Beverly Hills, California, June 10, 2004), was an American singer-songwriter, musician, arranger and bandleader.
As a rock and roll, rhythm & blues, soul, blues, jazz, country and pop musician he helped to shape the sound of rhythm & blues.
He brought a soulful sound to everything from country music (“I Can’t Stop Loving You”) to rock and roll (“Mess Around”), to pop standards to a now-iconic rendition of “America The Beautiful.” Frank Sinatra called him “the only genius in the business.”
Ray Charles was born in Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930. He was the son of Aretha Williams, a share cropper, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman. The two were never married. The family moved to Greenville, Florida, United States when Ray was an infant. Bailey had three more families, leaving Aretha to raise the family on her own.
Ray Charles was not born blind. He started to lose his sight somewhere at the age of five. He was rendered totally blind by the age of seven. Charles never knew exactly why he lost his sight, though there are sources that suggest his blindness was due to glaucoma, and some other sources suggest that Ray began to lose his sight from an infection caused by soapy water to his eyes which was left untreated. He attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida from 1937-1945 where he developed his musical gift that he is known and remembered for today. His father died when he was ten, followed by his mother five years later.
In school, he was taught only classical music, but he wanted to play what he heard on the radio, jazz and blues. After his mother died, Charles did not return to school. He lived in Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his mother. For over a year, he played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. Charles moved to Orlando, then Tampa, where he played “with a hillbilly band called The Florida Playboys.” This is where Charles began his reputation of always wearing sunglasses that were made by designer Billy Stickles.