Ray Charles: The Challenge In Life

Charles was no angel. His womanizing was legendary, and he struggled with a heroin addiction for nearly 20 years before quitting cold turkey in 1965 after an arrest at the Boston airport. Charles was divorced twice and single since 1952, Charles had a total of 12 children, 20 grandchildren and 5 great grand children.

The 12-time Grammy winner enjoyed such hits as Hit the Road Jack, Can't Stop Loving You and Busted. His other well know tunes included a soulful rendition of America the Beautiful and Makin' Whoopee.

Georgia on My Mind was written in 1931 and became an American standard by Charles in 1967. It became Georgia's state song in 1979. Nevertheless, he was concidered one of the most talented musians of all time. After Ray witnessed his brother's death, he began to go blind at age five and was fully blind by the age of seven due to untreated glaucoma.

His mother prepared him for his blindness by still requiring Ray to continue with his daily chores in order to find his way around. Once Ray became fully blind, his mother enrolled him as a charity student at the school for the blind in St. Augustine, Florida, where he learned to play the trumpet, the saxophone, the clarinet, and organ.

2. Google.com

Unfortunately, at the age of fifteen, his mother died from food poisoning. That's when Ray Charles decided to become a musician and set out on his own. Ray Charles, during that time, played with various local bands till the age of seventeen. When Ray turned seventeen, he chose to leave Florida and jumped aboard a bus and headed to Seattle. Once in Seattle he entered a contest at a local club and was offered a job full-time playing piano and singing. (3) One day when Ray was playing, a producer by the name of Quincy Jones noticed him and offered him a record deal. At this time, his name was shortened to Ray Charles to not be confused with the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. He also formed a trio and they ended up with a major R&B hit.

Ray Charles, although able to reconcile many American music styles such as blues, R&B and gospel into a beautiful sound, he was unable to do the same in his own private life. Ray married twice. Once in 1951 to a lady by the name of Eileen Williams. Ray and Eileen had one child and divorced in 1952.(3) Ray remarried in 1955, to a lady by the name of Della Beatrice Howard. Della and Ray had three lovely children, but divorced in 1977. Though Ray had four children through his two marriages, he had twelve children altogether.

In 1940, Ray Charles started to use Heroin. He had struggled with the addiction for two decades. In 1964, he was arrested for it. Although he never served time in jail he was arrested three times for drug violations. Ray Charles had always been open about his addiction. He stated "it began with a desire to both emulate older musicians and prove his independence. While he was awaiting his trial he went to an award ceremony in which his son, Ray Jr. was receiving an award.

He had to leave before his son received his award, so Ray Jr. cried. Ray, seeing this, realized that his son would be very hurt if someone yelled out that Ray was a drug addict, so he went to the hospital and got help for his drug addiction. After a year, he was over the addiction. He quit music for a year to get his life together and become more successful at what he did best.

In 1950, Ray left Seattle and began touring with a blues guitarist by the name of Lowell Fulson. Ray toured up and down the West Coast and throughout the South. He continued on the road for most of year. In 1952, he signed on with Atlantic Records. Atlantic allowed Ray to record a label with his touring band. Their first hit was "I've got a Woman" in 1954. Mid 1950, Ray hired lady backup singers (later named "Raelettes"). They became a permanent part of Ray's music. (3)

In late 1959, Ray felt that Atlantic was still a R&B organization and that wasn't what he was looking for. Ray decided to move to ABC Paramount Records. In 1962, Ray formed Ray Charles Enterprises. As well as opening Ray Charles Enterprises in the 60's, Ray also started to star in films. He starred in a 1962 film Swinging Alone, a 1966 film Ballad in Blue. He also did recordings for movie soundtracks like the 1965 film The Cincinnati Kid and the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night.

In the 1980's Ray had a lot of recognition among the younger audiences. Ray became the lead spokesman for Pepsi commercials. As well as the phrase "you got the right one, baby!" (Kauffman and Hallahan, pg. 17)

Ray received numerous Grammy's throughout his career. In 1976, he was the recipient of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. His song Georgia on my Mind ended up becoming the state song. In 1981, he received a star with his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1994, he became part of the Jazz Hall of Fame.

Ray performed Georgia on my Mind at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2002, Charles celebrated the 40th anniversary of his first country hit, "I Can't Stop Loving You," which became a number one chart topper and expanded the scope of the entertainer's career to the industry's astonishment. (Lureadg, pg. 63) He also performed the same song along with America the Beautiful at a media banquet in 2003 in Washington. In 2004, he dedicated his music studio as a historic landmark in Los Angeles.

On June 10, 2004 Ray Charles died from acute liver disease at the age of seventy-three. He was surrounded by his family and friends. Although blind, Ray was a talented composer, singer and pianist. Ray is well known for his smiling, swaying and black sunglasses, but most of all his music. Two months after Ray Charles' death, his final album, Genius Love Company, and it consists of duets with various other artists. Artists like B.B. King, Willie Nelson and Elton John. This album won a total of eight Grammy Awards. Five of those Grammy Awards were for Ray Charles.


1. James M. Kauffman and Daniel P. Hallahan, Special Education: What It Is and Why We Need It (2005)
2. James M. Lureadg, Education Reform: Bright People Sometimes Say Stupid Things About Education (2004)
3. Sited from www.raycharles.com