Ray Charles Robinson was born Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. Ray later quit using his last name because there was already a famous Ray Robinson, the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Ray\'s father, Bailey Robinson, was a mechanic and a handyman, and his mother, Aretha, stacked boards in a sawmill. His family moved to Gainesville, Fla., when Charles was an infant.
Ray Charles endured many challenges in his youth. Like many families during the depression, his family struggled with poverty. His younger brother drowned when Charles was 5 and by age 7 little Ray Charles had lost his sight. It has been speculated that it was as a result of glaucoma but at the time there wasn\'t any specific diagnosis.
Ray Charles was sent away to the state-supported St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind, where he learned to read and write music in Braille. Blind kids study by reading the music with their fingers. Charles would read three or four bars of music with his fingers, and then play it. Unlike those with sight, a blind person can\'t just sit there and play as they read the music. First they must learn the bars of music, practice it, and then play it and memorize it.
Charles wasn\'t able to get into piano class at first because it was full. Charles admired Clarinet player Artie Shaw so the first instrument he learned how to play was the clarinet. Later he was able to get into the piano class and he also learned how to play alto sax, trumpet and organ.
When he was 15 his mother died and he left St. Augustine to pursue his musical destiny. Charles played at black dance halls around Florida, nearly starving at times. In 1948 he wanted to move to a new place as far away from Florida as he could. Charles ended up in Seattle where he met a young Quincy Jones and formed a lifelong friendship. Charles played a major role in the Jones 1985 recording of USA for Africa\'s "We Are the World."
Early on Charle\'s style was influenced by Nat "King" Cole. Charles had a major R&B hit in 1949 with "Confession Blues" on the Downbeat (later Swing Time) label. During this early time he developed a dependency on heroin which continued until he stopped cold turkey in 1965. Charles has seldom talked about his heroin addiction, instead wanting the public to focus on his music.
Over the years Ray Charles developed his own unique sound, a blend of blues, R&B and gospel. Charle\'s musical genius was noticed early and he had several record company contracts and played at the Apollo, Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.
In the 1960\'s Charles started appearing in films and recorded soundtracks such as The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and In the Heat of the Night (1967). Charles also performed at nightclubs during this time.
In 1978 Dial Press published his autobiography, "Brother Ray." In his autobiography Ray Charles stated, "I was born with music inside me. That\'s the only explanation I know of... Music was one of my parts ... like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me, like food or water."
In 1980 Charles appeared in The Blues Brothers movie and scored a minor country hit for his duet with Clint Eastwood, "Beers to You," from the film Any Which Way You Can. Clint Eastwood has been a long admirer of Ray Charles and developed a close friendship with him. It was Eastwood who presented Charles with his last award in 2004, when Charles\' recording studios were designated an official city historic landmark.
1n 1989 Charles had his first major pop hit in over twenty years with with "I\'ll Be Good to You," featuring himself and Chaka Khan. In the \'90s Charles appeared in commercials for Pepsi and was the subject of a PBS documentary.
Charles won nine of his 12 Grammy Awards, winning his last Grammy in 1993 for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, "A Song For You."
Being born into the segregated south in 1930 Charles was aware of the evil of racial injustice. Ray Charles knew that since he wasn\'t able to know when to duck when bottles would be thrown at his head, that it was better for him to help raise money to fight racial injustice. Charles did this for Martin Luther King Jr. and other groups around the world.
Commenting on being black and blind Charles said, "I knew being blind was suddenly an aid. I never learned to stop at the skin. If I looked at a man or a woman, I wanted to see inside. Being distracted by shading or coloring is stupid. It gets in the way. It\'s something I just can\'t see."
One of Charles\' most treasured awards is the 1976 "Man of the Year" Award from Beverly Hills Lodge of B\'nai Brith. Charles said, "If someone besides a black ever sings the real gut bucket blues, it\'ll be a Jew. We both know what it\'s like to be someone else\'s footstool."
On a personal note, Charles was legendary ladie\'s man and has 12 children and 20 grandchildren.
The last public appearance by Ray Charles was April 39, 2004 alongside Clint Eastwood and Cicely Tyson at his beloved Central Los Angeles recording studios. The city of Los Angeles honored music legend Ray Charles, by designatng his Edifice Complex an official city historic landmark. The Grammy winner\'s recording studios, were built 40 years ago in Central Los Angeles. The building, located at 2107 W. Washington Blvd, has served as his office and studio since being built in 1962.