Ray Charles, born Ray Charles Robinson, was undoubtedly one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and is so important to musicians or fans that know and love jazz. An American musician born in Georgia on September 23, 1930, Ray Charles grew up to be one of the most acclaimed piano players ever to exist. He combined soul music with jazz in often-brilliant ways, integrating blues, country, gospel and even R&B into his later singles. He is known among his fans and to music history for the songs “Georgia On My Mind”, “Hit the Road Jack”, “Unchain My Heart’, and more. He is called “The Genius” or “The High Priest of Soul”. Many people know that Ray not only sang and played music, but composed and wrote songs.
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As a child, Ray Charles suffered from glaucoma and began to go blind around age four or five. He eventually became completely blind from glaucoma by the age of seven. He was the son of Bailey Robinson and Aretha Robinson. His mother was a sharecropper and his father Bailey was a mechanic, handy man, and railroad repairman. The Robinson family moved from Albany, Georgia to Greenville, Florida, his mother’s hometown. He had little contact with his father in his childhood and was raised primarily by Aretha and Mary Jane, his father’s first wife. His mother was a Christian and they often would attend services at the New Shiloh Baptist Church.
At an early age, Ray had a way with mechanics and became interested in music at age 3. Ray was at the Mr. Wylie Pitman’s Red Wing Cafe, and Pitman played the piano and eventually taught Ray the piano as well. Ray would frequent the cafe frequently and even lived there for a short time. Pitman would help care for Ray’s younger brother George as well, but George unfortunately drowned in his mother’s laundry tub when he was four and Ray was five.
Ray later would attend the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind from 1937 to 1945 at St. Augustine, where he developed his musical skills, learned to play classical music, and to read sheet music using braille.