Ray Charles; singer, pianist, saxophonist, band leader and composer had a profound impact on the development of popular music. He was a master of styles as diverse as jazz and country, and his by bringing together gospel and blues he was attributed the invention of “soul”.
Charles won 12 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 1987. His songs "Hit the Road Jack," "What'd I Say" and "Georgia on My Mind" have become American classics. In 1986, he was an original inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition he was a member of the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, Songwriters' Hall of Fame, Grammy Hall of Fame, Jazz Hall of Fame, Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Incredibly, on July 20, 2003, he celebrated his 10,000th concert.
He was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia and started dabbling in music at 3, encouraged by a cafe owner who played the piano. He had an incredibly tough childhood; his family were very poor and struggling through the Depression. He saw his brother drown in the tub when he was about 5, his sight was gone two years later and was left an orphan at 15.
He was however a gifted pianist and saxophonist, he dabbled in country, jazz, big band and blues. He developed quickly after moving to Seattle, and signed with Atlantic Records in 1953. Two years later he recorded "I Got a Woman," a raw mixture of gospel and rhythm 'n' blues, inventing what was later called soul. He then switched to ABC-Paramount in 1959, building an impressive track record of hits along the way,
In 1959, Charles entered into the lucrative white pop market with What'd I Say, which had a call-and-response form that mimicked preacher and congregation. Despite being banned by several American radio stations for the sexually suggestive interplay between Charles and his back-up singers, The Raeletts, it sold more than a million copies.
Countless other singers, ranging from Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin to the Beatles and Van Morrison, would cite Ray Charles as an influence; even Frank Sinatra described him as "the only genius in our business".
Charles released "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Volumes 1 and 2" in the early '60s, a big switch from his gospel work. It included "Born to Lose," "Take These Chains From My Heart (And Set Me Free)" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," some of the biggest hits of his career.
Charles won nine of his 12 Grammy Awards between 1960 and 1966, including the best R&B recording three consecutive years ("Hit the Road Jack," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Busted").
His versions of other songs are also well known, including "Makin' Whoopee" and a stirring "America the Beautiful." Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote "Georgia on My Mind" in 1931 but it didn't become Georgia's official state song until 1979, long after Charles turned it into an American standard.
Charles was no angel. He could be mercurial and his womanizing was legendary. He also struggled with a heroin addiction for nearly 20 years before quitting cold turkey in 1965 after an arrest at the Boston airport. Yet there was a sense of humor about even that -- he released both "I Don't Need No Doctor" and "Let's Go Get Stoned" in 1966.
The man had, in 73 years, and over a career spanning six decades, reworked the rules for jazz, gospel, blues and pop. He had taken two wildly diverse streams of music -- the free-spirited, hedonistic energy of rock 'n' roll and the slowly burning ache of gospel and soul -- to create something brand new which has influenced countless artists over the last four decades.