On this day in 2004, talented musician, singer and composer, Ray Charles Robinson passed away.
Born September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia, Ray Charles was one of the first African American artists to merge the blues with gospel to pave the way for rhythm and blues (R&B)music.
Fourteen years after his death, his music legacy still lives on. Here are five interesting facts about the life of this music legend:
Blind from age 7
At five, Ray Charles began to go blind and by the age of seven, his sight was completely gone. His mother sent him to the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, a racially segregated school in Florida, where he learned to read music in Braille as well as to play both classical and jazz music on the piano.
He definitely did not let his disability stop him from achieving success. In 1952 he signed with Atlantic Records, one of the largest labels in the country. After being influenced by top artistes such as Nat King Cole, Charles Brown, and Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles recorded his first hit, “I Got a Woman,” in 1955.
Four years later, he released “What’d I Say”, making him one of the leading R&B artists in the country. One of his compositions during this period, “Georgia on My Mind,” was eventually adopted as the official song for the state of Georgia.
He first tried drugs when he played in the McSon Trio. Charles believed that drugs could make musicians more creative so he first experimented with marijuana and later heroin. He struggled with this for about 16 years.
In 1965 at the peak of his career, Ray Charles took a year-long break to overcome the heroin addiction after he was arrested on drug charges.
Supported the Civil Rights Movement
The R&B legend was also a huge supporter of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He became a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and refused to play before segregated audiences during that period. Ray Charles further composed protest songs such as “You’re in for a Big Surprise” and “Danger Zone.”
His countless achievements and recognitions
Throughout the course of his career, his accolades included scores of Grammies, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and a bronze medallion from the French Republic in recognition of his contribution to world music.
In 2004 he was inducted into the National Black Sports & Entertainment Hall of Fame. The Grammy Awards of 2005 were also dedicated to him.
On September 23, 2013, the United States Postal Service issued a forever stamp honouring Ray Charles as part of it Musical Icons series.
Ray Charles married twice, and the father of twelve children with ten different women.
Three years after his death, the Ray Charles Plaza was opened in his hometown of Albany, Georgia, featuring a sculpture of Ray Charles seated at a piano.
He played chess