Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 - June 10, 2004) was a one of first performers to fuse R&B and Gospel music to create Soul
back in The Fifties
and he exerted a major influence on the development of the Rock & Roll
Losing his sight to an infection at a young age and educated in music at a school for the blind, Ray became a talented musician and multi-instrumentalist who got his start singing and playing piano and organ with country
bands in the 1940s
. Although he recorded a few minor hits, his big break came when he was signed to Atlantic Records in the early 1950s and recorded songs such as "Mess Around" (written by Atlantic co-founder and president Ahmet Ertegun), "I Got A Woman", "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" and "What'd I Say", which combined raw, passionate gospel energy with boogie-influenced music and secular lyrics. While this music provoked some controversy at the time, these songs are now recognised as some of the first soul songs and established Ray as the inventor of a whole new genre.
Subsequently, he joined a major label (ABC-Paramount) and decided to explore new sounds, including Jazz
and especially Country
, which earned him some of his biggest hits, including "Georgia On My Mind", "Hit the Road Jack" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" (a song which is now credited for helping to popularise country outside of its traditional audiences). Although he struggled with drug addiction and sporadic success after the 1960s, interest in his music was renewed thanks to his appearance in The Blues Brothers
in 1980 and he remained popular until his death from cancer in 2004.
Ray's influence on other singers and musicians cannot be understated; Frank Sinatra
called him "the only true genius" in popular music, Billy Joel
was hugely influenced by his piano playing and singing, the members of The Beatles
all expressed their admiration for his achievements, with Paul McCartney
crediting him as his reason for getting into music, and his song "What'd I Say" was allegedly the first song Mick Jagger performed as a member of The Rolling Stones
His early life, rise to fame, dalliances with drug addiction and involvement in the civil rights movement are chronicled in the Academy Award
-winning Biopic Ray
, released only a few months after his death. He was set to attend the premiere had he lived.
- Blind Black Guy: If a black character is blind, expect them to be a parody of Ray (or possibly Stevie Wonder).
- Blind Musician
- Breakup Song: "Hit the Road, Jack", done with The Raelettes. (Ray didn't write it - that would be Percy Mayfield - but his version is the most well-known.)
- The Cover Changes The Meaning: The lyrics to "Georgia on My Mind" were originally written for composer Hoagy Carmichael's sister, despite it being ambiguous enough to refer to the state or a woman. After Ray made it famous as a dedication to the state of Georgia, it became the official state song.
- Dance Sensation: Everybody's doing the "Mess Around".
- Erudite Stoner: After kicking his heroin habit, Charles coped by smoking weed every day.
- Genre Popularizer: Either "I Got a Woman" or "What'd I Say" is considered to be this for Soul, depending on who you ask, but either way, it was Ray.
- Greatest Hits Album: He has several conventional greatest hits and best of sets, but several of his early albums were effectively hits collections as a result of the record industry practices in the 1950s. For example, his first "studio" album (released in 1957) incorporated hit songs he'd recorded as far back as 1953.
- Intercourse with You: "What'd I Say".
- Live Album: 1959's Ray Charles at Newport stands alongside James Brown's Live at the Apollo as one of the best live recordings of the early R&B/Soul era.
- Ode to Intoxication: "Let's Go Get Stoned"
- Patriotic Fervor: Known for his version of "America the Beautiful".
- Product Placement: One well-known commercial he did for Diet Pepsi involved an off-camera practical joker switching his soda with Diet Coke. Of course, Ray can't see the difference, but he can certainly taste it. Pepsi admitted the commercial was taking a risk by potentially being seen as poking fun at a handicap, but it went over very well.
- Self-Deprecation: He always had a sense of humor about his blindness. Examples include hanging a poster upside down in The Blues Brothers, having a cameo in Spy Hard as a bus driver, and doing a radio ad for some fast food sandwich saying that he felt like going out for one "so you might want to stay off the road."
- Self-Titled Album
- Sesame Street Cred: His performance of the Muppet classic "Its Not Easy Being Green" may well be the single greatest musical moment in Sesame Street history.
- Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll
- Stage Name: He dropped his last name so as not to be confused with the boxer "Sugar" Ray Robinson.