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The proclaimed “genius” of soul, Ray Charles, was born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. With more than 10 Grammy Awards to his name, it is no wonder why he is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time.
Here are five things to know about the late Ray Charles!
- Childhood trauma did not stop Ray Charles from success. At the age of five, Ray Charles went through a life-changing experience when he witnessed his younger brother, George, drown. One day while the two boys were playing a mishap occurred and it resulted in George falling into their mother’s laundry tub. The incident left Charles traumatized, and soon after he began losing his vision. By the age of seven, he was blind due to glaucoma, but none of it stopped him from becoming a top artist.
- He could play multiple instruments. After losing his vision, Ray Charles began attending the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind where he learned to read, write and arrange music in Braille. While there, he also learned how to play piano, organ, sax, clarinet and trumpet. His musical interests ranged from gospel to blues.
- A performer since the age of 15. Ray Charles got his first exposure to the stage at the age of 15. After his mother died, he toured on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” in the South for a year. The “Chitlin’ Circuit” gave exposure to African-American musicians, comedians, and other entertainers during segregation.
- He refused to play in a segregated venue. The Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia was a segregated venue with a dance floor reserved for white guests and the upper balcony was sectioned off for black guests. Ray Charles canceled his show at the venue once he learned of the segregation. After paying the fine for breaching his contract, he did not perform at another show in Augusta until it was desegregated.
- “Georgia on my Mind” became the state song for Georgia. The classic Ray Charles song, “Georgia on my Mind,” became Georgia’s official state song in 1979. The original song was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930, but it became a major hit when Ray Charles recorded it.
Over the course of his career, Ray Charles recorded more than 60 albums and performed more than 10,000 shows. He received a national medal from former President Bill Clinton and was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. The legendary musician died on June 10, 2004, and the same year his life story made it to the theaters with the hit film, Ray.