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Summary Article: Ray Charles (1932–2004) from African American Almanac
Singer, Pianist, Bandleader

Ray Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson on September 27, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. Blinded at the age of six by glaucoma, Charles received his first musical training at a school for the blind in St. Augustine, Florida. He left school at the age of fifteen to play local engagements. Within two years after the death of his parents he formed a trio that had some success in the Northwest. Influenced by smooth pop and rock styles Charles got his first rhythm and blues chart topper with “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand,” followed by “I Got a Woman,” released in 1955. Charles's songs at this time began to include the groans and shouts reflective of his gospel musical arrangements.

In 1957 his first album was released, consisting of a potpourri of instrumentals drawn from pop, gospel, and modern jazz sources. His singing and piano playing found favor particularly with a number of jazz artists who opposed what they felt was a growing tendency for jazz to become over-scored and under-felt. In Charles they saw an artist who had restored both a sense of “soul” and instrumental “funkiness” to the jazz idiom.

Charles had a string of hits through the 1960s such as “Hit the Road” and “I Can't Stop Loving You”. He was so influential that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, received the National Medal of the Arts in 1993, was awarded more than ten Grammys, and received numerous degrees and other honors. Actively involved with a film about his life starring Jamie Foxx, Charles took time to train, encourage, and challenge Foxx musically. Charles, who had been battling cancer, died on June 10, 2004, after giving Foxx his blessings for the film. The film opened on June 10, 2004, and Foxx won an Academy Award as best actor for his performance in 2005.

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