ray reflects
Ray Charles interview
his life in pictures
(September 23, 1930 - June 10, 2004)
"In music you just can't escape when something is beautiful," Ray Charles recently said.
Added the legendary singer/pianist/composer, "Like a good song, you can't get away from a good song. You have a good song, and it will still be beautiful, even when somebody with a bad voice sings it. I love the old writers, who wrote beautiful love songs. I came up on those kinds of songs. But I have just as much love for blues and jazz too.

"It's like Duke Ellington said; there are only two kinds of music - good and bad. And you can tell when something is good."

That observation can apply to anything in Charles' extensive catalog.

From country to blues to jazz to R&B and even funk, the 73-year old Charles has set the aesthetic standard for more than five decades, earning plaudits across the globe and setting standards that his legion of fans, in and out of the entertainment industry, aspire to.

More often than not he wasn't called by his name - or even his longtime nickname "Brother Ray"---his is simply "The Genius."

His career has borne that title out.

Few artists can claim to have had such a wide ranging impact on the music we love, and even fewer have altered the course of so many musical streams - from his soul-jazz combos to his crucial R&B bands, to his landmark country music recordings, "Modern Sounds in Country Music."

Only modesty kept him from saying the obvious - that his name sits at the top of the soul singers list.

Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930 (he shares a birthday with another musical icon, John Coltrane).

Charles was not born blind - he lost his sight to undiagnosed glaucoma at age seven.

He enrolled in the St. Augustine (Fla) School for the deaf and blind, where he developed his enormous musical gift. After his mother's death, he set out as a solo act, modeling himself after Nat "King" Cole.

Soon he found himself in Seattle, Washington, where he met a young Quincy Jones, and established a name for himself in clubs.

It was then that he dropped the "Robinson" from his name to avoid confusion with the legendary boxer.

Starting his recording career in the late 1940's, Charles soon began experimenting, mixing genres. He began establishing a name for himself in clubs around the northwest, evolving his own music and singing style, which later included the famous back up singers, "The Raelettes."

His ascent took off in 1955, when he released "I Got a Woman."

Charles reworded the gospel tune "Jesus is all the World to Me" adding deep church inflections to the secular rhythms of the nightclubs, and the world was never the same. That song is widely credited as being the first true "soul" record.

"You can't run away from yourself," Charles once said.

"What you are inside is what you are inside. I was raised in the church and was around blues and would hear all these musicians on the jukeboxes and then I would go to revival meetings on Sunday morning. So I would get both sides of music. A lot of people at the time thought it was sacrilegious but all I was doing was singing the way I felt."

That wellspring of deep emotion - tempered by one of the 20th century's most keen musical minds - long ago made Charles an American cultural icon.

He was an artist instrumental in the creation of rock and roll yet just as home with the music of Gershwin.

Everyone remembers Charles singing "Georgia" "Born To Lose", "Hit the Road Jack, "I Can't Stop Loving You." Or, the Beatles' "Eleanor Rugby" and "Yesterday." Even more remember his epochal rendition of "America the Beautiful."

During a career that has spanned some 58 years, Charles starred on over 250 albums, many of them top sellers in a variety of musical genres.

Charles appeared in movies, such as "The Blues Brothers," and on television, and starred in commercials for Pepsi and California Raisins, among numerous others.

Blessed with one of the 20th century's most advanced musical minds, Charles became an American cultural icon decades ago.

According to his long time manager, Joe Adams, "He pioneered a new style and opened the door for many young performers to follow. Some of his biggest fans were the young music stars of today, who loved and admired his talent and independent spirit."

In 1987, Charles established the Ray Charles Robinson Foundation for the hearing impaired.

Since its creation, the foundation, with Charles' encouragement and generous, on-going funding, has blazed a trail of discovery in auditory physiology and hearing implantation.

Each such implant procedure costs upwards of $40,000, which the Foundation pays to have done.

Of some 145-celebrity charities, the Ray Charles Foundation is rated by non-profit experts as one of the top five most efficient with zero administrative overhead.

In May, 2002, he performed at the Coliseum in Rome, the first musical performance there in 2,000 years. Additionally, 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.

Later that year Charles and Adams endowed both Morehouse College and Albany State Univ., in Charles' birthplace of Albany, GA, with substantial contributions, exceeding $1 million each. These gifts were a modest example of the countless donations he's kept under wraps.

In addition to the 12 Grammy(r) Awards, not including the Lifetime Achievement and the President's Merit Award, Charles is also one of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Presidential Medal for the Arts, France's Legion of Honor and the Kennedy Center Honors.

He has also been inducted into numerous other music Halls of Fame, including those for Rock and Roll, Jazz and Rhythm and Blues, a testament to his enormous influence.

In 2003, he headlined the White House Correspondents Dinner in Wash., DC, at which President and Mrs. Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, were in attendance. Astonishingly, he has performed at the request of the past seven presidents.

He has received eight honorary doctorates, the most recent in 2003 from Dillard University in New Orleans. Later that summer, he performed his 10,000th career concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.

Charles finalized "Genius Loves Company" a duets album in 2004, which has become the best selling album of his career.

Norah Jones, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Ratite, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis and James Taylor are just a few of the notable artists involved with the project.

"The duets project has been a tremendous experience," he said, at the conclusion of recording.

In 2004, like so many previous years, Charles was consistently recognized for his career accomplishments.

Charles was awarded the prestigious "President's Merit Award" from the Grammy(r) organization and was named a City of Los Angeles "Cultural Treasure" by LA Mayor James Hahn during "African American Heritage Month" in a ceremony that he attended. He also received the NAACP Image Awards' "Hall of Fame Award."

Recently, a series of slot machines were designed in Charles' name for the visually handicapped and the legendary performer was also named a "living legend" by the Library of Congress.

"Ray," the major feature film based on his life story starring Jamie Foxx as the entertainer, hit theaters at the end of October, 2004.

Charles once told an interviewer from USA Today, "Music to me is just like breathing. I have to have it. It's part of me." And its also part of us.