Ray Charles

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Ray CharlesThe Life and Legacy of a Genius Ray Charles was a revolutionary pianist and a soul singer who helped shape the sound of rhythm and blues. He brought a soulful sound to everything from country music to pop standards to "God Bless America." His birth name was Ray Charles Robinson, but he shortened it when he entered show business to avoid confusion with the famous boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. I chose Ray Charles as the topic for my paper after seeing the movie Ray. After viewing this film I realized that there was a lot of interesting information about Ray Charles that I had never heard about. Therefore, the focus of my paper is to learn who Ray Charles really was and to discuss his life and achievements.

The Early Years Ray Charles was born in Albany, Georgia. Around the age of five, Charles began to go blind and by age seven he was totally blind. I was shocked when I learned this information because I had always thought that Ray Charles was blind from birth. Although many are not certain to the exact reasons as to why Charles went blind, it was believed to be the result of glaucoma. Just before his eyes began to fail him, he had seen his younger brother, George, drown in a washtub. This part of his life was well portrayed in the movie Ray

Ray states, "We were out in the backyard one day while my mom was in the house ironing some clothes. We were playing by a huge metal washtub full of water. And we were having gun the way boys do, pushing and jostling each other around. Now, I never did know just how it happened, but my brother somehow tilted over the rim of this tub and fell down, slid down into the water and slipped under. At first I thought he was still playing, but it finally dawned on me that he wasn't moving.

He wasn't reacting. I tried to pull him out of the water, but by that time his clothes had gotten soaked through with water and he was just too heavy for me. So I ran in and got my mom, and she raced out back and snatched him out of the tub. She shook him, and breathed into his mouth, and pumped his little stomach, but it was too late." (Internet source, 1) Witnessing his brother drown also had a serious effect on him in his later years. Young Ray Charles attended school at the St.

Augustine School for the deaf and blind in St. Augustine, Florida as a charity case. While there he learned how to read Braille and to write music and play various instruments. After leaving school, Charles began working as a musician in Florida. After saving some money he eventually moved to Seattle, Washington in 1947.

During this time he started recording and achieved his first hit song in 1951. The song was titled "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand." When Charles first began singing many felt as though his sound and piano playing resembled those of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown. Ray was quoted saying, "When I started to sing like myself - as opposed to imitating Nat Cole, which I had done for a while - when I started singing like Ray Charles, it had this spiritual and churchy, this religious or gospel sound. It had this holiness and preachy tone to it. It was very controversial.

I got a lot of criticism for it." - (San Jose Mercury News, 1994) Charles soon became more innovative when he realized that his first recordings were only skillful imitations of his heroes. After joining Atlantic Records, Charles's sound became more and more original and found breaking. He took many tunes from gospel music and put them to secular lyrics performed in front of a jazz lineup playing R&B with exceptionally tight arrangements. He sometimes even added a country music feel to some of his arrangements for example in his version of Hank Snow's "I'm Moving On."The Middle Years "Do it right or don't do it at all. That comes from my mom.

If there's something I want to do, I'm one of those people that won't be satisfied until I get it done. If I'm trying to sing something and I can't get it, I'm going to keep at it until I get it where I want it." - (Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 1998) This quotation from Ray Charles basically sums up the middle years of his life. Hits, hits, and more surrounded the middle years of Ray Charles's life. His first hit in this mode was "Mess Around," which was based on the 1929 classic "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" by Pinetop Smith. He had another hit with the rap like urban jive of "It Should Have Been Me." His career went into high gear with the gospel drive of "I Got A Woman" in 1955.

The rest of his next few hit records were, "This Little Girl of Mine," "Drown in my Own Tears," "Hallelujah I Love Her So," and "Lonely Avenue." Half of these songs were gospel songs converted with secular lyrics and the other half were from blues ballads. Charles was criticized for singing gospel songs with secular lyrics but this did not stop him. There is a long tradition of putting religious lyrics to popular songs and vice versa. For example, Thomas A Dorsey, one of the founders of gospel music also had a significant career in secular music. Little Richard and Solomon Burke also moved freely between the two styles.

Ray Charles's fame and success began to grow. After an appearance at the New Post Jazz Festival he achieved mainstream success with " (The Night Time is) The Right Time" and his signature song, "What'd I Say." The essence of this phase in his career can be heard on his live album, Ray Charles in Person. This album was recorded before a mostly African American audience in Atlanta in 1958. This album also features the first public performance of "What'd I say." It broke out as a hit in Atlanta from the tape, months before it was recorded in the studio in a two-part version with better devotion. By this time Charles had already begun to go beyond the limits of his blues-gospel style while still at Atlantic.

It was from this point on that people began to call him The Genius. He recorded with large orchestras and with jazz artists like Milt Jackson and even made his first country music cover with Hank Snow's "I'm Movin On." And with that song he did move on, he moved right on to ABC records. At ABC, Charles had a great deal of control over his music. This control helped him to broaden his approach, not on experimental side projects, but with "out and out" pop music, resulting in hits such as "Unchain My Heart" and "Hit the Road Jack," which may I add is a personal favorite of mine. In 1962, Charles surprised his new, broad audience with his landmark album Modern Sounds in Country Western Music, which included the numbers "I cant's Stop Loving You," and "You Don't Know Me," This was followed by a series of hits which included the numbers "You are My Sunshine," "Crying Time," "Busted," and "Take these Chains From My Heart." During all this time while Ray's life seemed to be flourishing with greatness, it was from the movie Ray that I learned he was struggling with a drug addiction.

It didn't seem to stop Ray until 1965. In 1965, Charles was arrested for possession of heroin but avoided jail time after kicking the habit in a clinic in Los Angeles. He spent a year on parole after this. It is kind of funny and some what ironic that during this time that he was on parole for drugs he defiantly released Ashford and Simpson's, "Lets Get Stoned" in 1966. After the 1960's, Charles's releases have been hit or miss with some massive hits and critically acclaimed work and some music that has been dismissed as unoriginal and dull. He concentrated largely on live performances.

Soon after Charles dropped another hit entitled "Georgia on My Mind," which was a Hoagy Carmichael song origin...

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