Ray Charles: Music Legend Dies at 73

Published: 2004-06-11
"I was born with music inside me," said legendary musician Ray Charles. "Music was one of my parts… Like my blood. It was a necessity for me, like food or water." After 50 years of entertaining the world, Ray Charles has died at the age of 73.

He was born Ray Charles Robinson on September 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia. His family moved to Florida when Ray was a baby. By the age of seven Charles was totally blind. His mother enrolled him in the Florida state School for the Blind in St. Augustine. For years administrators at the state schools for the blind all over the country did not know exactly what to do with the children; music was an answer. And for many the music they learned at a state school for the blind was a way out and up. The program produced some very talented and successful musicians – Ronnie Milsap, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles to name a few.

Charles learned to read Braille music which opened up a new world to him. (Reading Braille music is a lot different from reading Braille letters, it's a whole different language). Charles said that learning to play by ear and reading Braille gave him a very good memory. He could write an entire piece of music at his desk without going near a piano. Charles learned to play the piano, organ, saxophone, and clarinet.

Ray Charles began playing professionally at age 16. His music transcended all styles and genres. Charles is credited with creating soul music by mixing "that devil music" with gospel. Charles' music paved the way for many of the musicians who followed such as Elvis Presley.

Along the way Charles became known for his womanizing. He had nine children by five different women. He also picked up a heroin habit. On his drug use Charles said that he did it himself – it was not society. Charles struggled with the heroin addiction for 20 years, but quit cold turkey in 1965 after an arrest for possession.

During his 50 years of bringing music to the world Ray Charles collected 12 Grammy Awards, 33 hit songs – three of which went to number one, has received Lifetime Achievement Awards, Kennedy Center Honours, and is in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Ray Charles felt that he had done everything he wanted to do, including playing a pretty good game of chess.

Ray Charles believed that he had been a blessed individual. "Music has been around a long time, and there's going to be music long after Ray Charles is dead. I just want to leave my mark, leave something musically good behind," said Charles. He blessed the world with his music and he has left a very big mark on the music world and a hole no one else can fill.

Before his death Ray Charles was working on a new album of duets, "Genius Love Company", with some of the top names in music and is scheduled to be released on August 31.

Writer: Sherrill Fulghum



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