Ray had what most of us
would consider to be a rough life, but you would never know it by
his positive outlook on life. He was born into poverty and his
mother had only a fourth-grade education. He overcame two tragedies
early in his life. First his younger brother died when Ray was just
5, and his mother died when he was 15. Despite all this, he went on
to have a successful career as a gospel, jazz and blues musician who
even did some country and pop songs. Some people credit Ray for
inventing soul music.
Ray was sent away to a special school in St. Augustine, Fla.,
when he was a child. Time to hit the road, Jack. But this was for
his own good, and he seemed to benefit from the experience, as he
learned to play the piano, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and organ
while he was there. But he always had Georgia on his mind.
While he was away at school, his mother died. His father died two
years later. The thing that Ray feared most, though, was the thought
of losing his hearing. You'll know why in a minute.
As an adult, Ray had more challenges to overcome in his personal
life. He abused heroin for 17 years, which resulted in three
arrests. He was married twice and fathered 12 children by nine
But he continued to create great music. In 1946, he began his
professional career playing with local bands in Jacksonville, Fla.
Two years later he moved to Seattle and formed a jazz and blues
group known as the Maxim Trio. He also adopted the stage name of R.C.
Robinson. He always claimed that he trusted people, yet he insisted
on being paid in single dollar bills every time. You'll know why in
The following year, in 1949, he
changed his professional name once again and released his first
single. Throughout his career, Ray earned a number of important
awards and honors, including:
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Induction into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's original class (1986).
One of his songs
was proclaimed as the state song of Georgia (1979).
Hollywood made a
movie about his career, and Jamie Foxx won an Academy Award for
his portrayal of Ray in the film (2005).
The Helen Keller Personal Achievement
Why would Ray be eligible for the Helen Keller Award?
The school that he went to as a child was a school for the blind.
At age 5, he began to lose his sight, and by age 7, he was
completely blind. By this time, though, he had already begun to
learn how to play music, so his blindness didn't hurt his ability to
When you see all those celebrities on TV wearing sunglasses
indoors, they are merely following the example that Ray Robinson set
more than 50 years ago, because Ray always wore sunglasses indoors.
And he always had a smile on his face.
So his name still doesn't ring a bell, yet you've heard of him.
His name could get confused with that of Sugar Ray Robinson, one of
the greatest boxers of all time. In fact, Ray C. Robinson shortened
his name when he entered show business, in order to avoid having his
name confused with that of Sugar Ray Robinson.
Because Ray Charles Robinson, the musician who cranked out such
hits as "Georgia on My Mind" and "Hit the Road, Jack," was none
other than … Ray Charles.
Paul Niemann is the author of the
"Invention Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2008