He pioneered the genre of soul music during the 1950s by combining rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into music recorded by Atlantic Records. He also contributed to the racial integration of country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossoversuccess on ABC Records, most notably with his two Modern Sounds albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the firstAfrican-American musicians to be granted artistic control by a mainstream record company.Frank Sinatra called him "the only true genius in show business", although Charles downplayed this notion. He was blind from age seven. His best friend in music was South Carolina-born James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul", and like Charles an active lifelong Republican.
Charles cited Nat King Cole as a primary influence, but his music was also influenced by jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and country artists of the day, including: Art Tatum, Louis Jordan, Charles Brown, and Louis Armstrong. Charles' playing reflected influences from country blues, barrelhouse and stride piano styles.
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Charles as number ten on their list of "100 Greatest Artists of All Time", and number two on their November 2008 list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". In honoring him, American musician Billy Joel noted: "This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley".
Ray Charles Robinson was the son of Aretha (née William) Robinson, a sharecropper, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman. Aretha was a devout Christian and the family attended the New Shiloh Baptist Church. When Charles was an infant, his family moved from [[Greenville,Florida
]], where he was born, to the poor black community on the western side of Albany,Georgia.
Charles did not see much of his father growing up and it is unclear whether his mother and father were ever married. Instead, Charles was raised by his biological mother Aretha, as well as his father’s first wife, a woman named Mary Jane. Growing up, he referred to Aretha as "Mama" and Mary Jane as "mother".
In his early years, Charles showed a curiosity for mechanical objects and often watched his neighbors working on their cars and farm machinery. His musical curiosity was sparked at Mr. Wylie Pitman's Red Wing Cafe when Pitman played boogie woogie on an old upright piano and he subsequently taught Charles how to play. Charles and his mother were always welcome at the Red Wing Cafe and even lived there when they were experiencing financial difficulties. Pitman would also care for George, Ray's brother, to take the burden off Aretha. George drowned in Aretha's laundry tub when he was four years old and Charles was five. After witnessing the death of his brother, Ray would feel an overwhelming sense of guilt later on in life.
Charles started to lose his sight at the age of four or five and went completely blind by the age of seven, apparently as a result of glaucoma. Broke, uneducated and still suffering from the loss of Charles' brother George, Aretha used her connections in the local community to find a school that would accept blind African American students. Despite his initial protest, Charles would attend school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine from 1937 to 1945.
At school, Charles began to develop his musical talent. In his classes, Charles was taught how to play the classical piano music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. His teacher Mrs. Lawrence taught him how to read music with braille, a difficult process that requires learning the left hand movements by reading braille with the right hand and learning the right hand movements by reading braille with the left hand, and then synthesizing the two parts. While Charles was happy to play the piano, he was more interested in jazz and blues music he heard on the family radio than classical music. On Fridays, the South Campus Literary Society held assemblies where Charles would play piano and sing popular songs. On Halloween and Washington's birthday, the black Department of the school had socials where Charles would play. It was here he established "RC Robinson and the Shop Boys" and sang his own arrangement of "Jingle Bell Boogie". During this time, he also performed on WFOY radio in St. Augustine.
In the spring of 1945, when Charles was 14 years old, Aretha died. Her death came as a shock to Ray, who would later consider her and his brother's deaths to be "the two great tragedies" of his life. After the funeral, Charles returned to school but was then expelled in October for playing a prank on his teacher.
After leaving school, Charles moved to Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his mother. For over a year, he played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. He also joined the musicians’ union in hopes that it would help him get work. Although he befriended many union members, others were not kind to him because he monopolized the union hall’s piano since he did not have one at home. He started to build a reputation as a talented musician in Jacksonville, but jobs were not coming fast enough for him to construct a strong identity. Because of the shortage of jobs, he decided to leave Jacksonville and move to a bigger city with more opportunities.
At age 16, Charles moved to Orlando where he lived in borderline poverty and went without food for days. It was an extremely difficult time for musicians to find work since the end of WWII meant there were no “GI Joe’s” left to entertain. Charles eventually started to write arrangements for a pop music band and in the summer of 1947, unsuccessfully auditioned to play piano for Lucky Millinder and his sixteen-piece band.
By 1947, Charles moved to Tampa where he had two jobs, one as a pianist for Charlie Brantley's Honeydrippers, a seven-piece band, and another as a member of a whitecountry band called The Florida Playboys. There is no historical trace of Charles' involvement in The Florida Playboys besides Charles' own testimony. This is where he began his habit of always wearing sunglasses, made by designer Billy Stickles. Ray Charles Robinson dropped his last name to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and patterned himself in his early career after Nat "King" Cole. His first four recordings — "Wondering and Wondering", "Walking and Talking", "Why Did You Go?" and "I Found My Baby There" — were supposedly made in Tampa; however, some discographies claim he recorded them in Miami in 1951 or Los Angeles in 1952.
Charles had always played for other people, but he wanted his own band. He decided to leave Florida for a large city, but considered Chicago and New York City too big. Charles followed his friend Gossie McKee to Seattle in March 1948, knowing the biggest radio hits came from northern cities. Seattle is where he first met and befriended, under the tutelage of Robert Blackwell, a 14-year-old Quincy Jones. He started playing the one-to-five A.M. shift at the Rocking Chair with his band, McSon Trio, which featured McKee on guitar and Milton Garrett on bass. Publicity photos of the trio are some of the earliest recorded photographs of Ray Charles. In April 1949, Charles and his band recorded "Confession Blues", which became his first national hit and soared to the second spot on the Billboard R&B chart. While playing at the Rocking Chair, he also arranged some songs for other artists, such as Cole Porter's "Ghost of a Chance" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Emanon".
In 1950, he played in a Miami hotel, impressing Henry Stone, who recorded a Ray Charles Rockin' record which never became very popular. During his stay in Miami, Charles was required to stay in the segregated but thriving black community of Overtown. Stone later helped Jerry Wexler find Charles in St. Petersburg.
After joining Swing Time Records recorded two more R&B hits, "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand" (No. 5) in 1951 and "Kissa Me Baby" (No. 8) in 1952 under his own name "Ray Charles" . The following year, Swing Time folded and Ahmet Ertegün signed him to Atlantic Records.
Charles' first recording session with Atlantic ("The Midnight Hour"/"Roll With my Baby") came in September 1952, although his last Swingtime release ("Misery in my Heart"/"The Snow is Falling") would not come until February 1953. He began recording jump blues and boogie-woogie style recordings as well as slower blues ballads where he continued to show the vocal influences of Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. "Mess Around" became Charles' first Atlantic hit in 1953 and he later had hits the following year with "It Should Have Been Me" and "Don't You Know". He also recorded the songs, "Midnight Hour" and "Sinner's Prayer". Some elements of his own vocal style showed up in "Sinner's Prayer", "Mess Around" and "Don't You Know".
Late in 1954, Charles recorded his own composition, "I Got a Woman", and the song became Charles' first number-one R&B hit in 1955 and brought him to national prominence. The elements of "I Got a Woman" included a mixture of gospel, jazz and blues elements that would later prove to be seminal in the development of rock 'n' rolland soul music. He repeated this pattern throughout 1955 continuing through 1958 with records such as "This Little Girl of Mine", "Drown in My Own Tears", "Lonely Avenue", "A Fool For You" and "The Night Time (Is the Right Time)".
While still promoting his R&B career, Charles also recorded instrumental jazz albums such as 1957's The Great Ray Charles. During this time, Charles also worked with jazzvibraphonistMilt Jackson, releasing Soul Brothers in 1958 and Soul Meeting in 1961. By 1958, Charles was not only headlining black venues such as The Apollo Theater and The Uptown Theater but also bigger venues such as The Newport Jazz Festival. It was at the Newport festival where he cut his first live album. In 1956, Charles recruited a young all-female singing group named the Cookies, and reshaped them as The Raelettes. Before then, Charles had used his wife and other musicians to back him up on recordings such as "This Little Girl of Mine" and "Drown In My Own Tears". The Raelettes' first recording session with Charles was on the bluesy-gospel inflected "Leave My Woman Alone".
Charles in 1971. Photo: Heinrich Klaffs.
Charles reached the pinnacle of his success at Atlantic with the release of "What'd I Say", a complex song that combined gospel, jazz, blues and Latin music and a song that Charles would later say he composed spontaneously as he was performing in clubs and dances with his small band. Despite some radio stations banning the song because of its sexually suggestive lyrics, the song became a crossover top ten pop record, Charles' first record to do so. Later in 1959, he released his first country song, a cover of Hank Snow's "Movin' On", and had recorded three more albums for the label including a jazz record (later released in 1961 as The Genius After Hours), a blues record (released in 1961 as The Genius Sings the Blues) and a traditional pop/big band record (The Genius of Ray Charles). The Genius of Ray Charles provided his first top 40 album entry where it peaked at No. 17 and was later held as a landmark record in Charles' career but Charles saw a bigger opportunity following his Atlantic contract expiring in the fall of 1959 when several big labels offered him record deals.
Choosing not to renegotiate his contract with Atlantic, Ray Charles signed with ABC-Paramount Records in November 1959, obtaining a much more liberal contract than other artists had at the time. Following the success of "What'd I Say" and The Genius of Ray Charles, ABC offered Charles a $50,000 annual advance, higher royalties than previously offered and eventual ownership of his masters — a very valuable and lucrative deal at the time. During his Atlantic years, Charles was heralded for his own inventive compositions, however, by the time of the release of the instrumental jazz LP Genius + Soul = Jazz (1960) for ABC's subsidiary label Impulse!, Charles had virtually given up on writing original material and had begun to follow his eclectic impulses as an interpreter.
With his first hit single for ABC-Paramount, Charles received national acclaim and a Grammy Award for the Sid Feller-produced "Georgia on My Mind", originally written by composers Stuart Gorrell and Hoagy Carmichael, released as a single by Charles in 1960. The song served as Charles' first work with Feller, who arranged and conducted the recording. Charles also earned another Grammy for the follow-up "Hit the Road Jack", written by R&B singer Percy Mayfield. By late 1961, Charles had expanded his smallroadensemble to a full-scale big band, partly as a response to increasing royalties and touring fees, becoming one of the few black artists to crossover into mainstream pop with such a level of creative control. This success, however, came to a momentary halt in November 1961, as a police search of Charles' hotel room in Indianapolis, Indiana, during a concert tour led to the discovery of heroin in his medicine cabinet. The case was eventually dropped, as the search lacked a proper warrant by the police, and Charles soon returned his focus on music and recording.
In the early 60s, Charles had a near-death experience after the pilot of the plane he was riding in lost visibility. On the way from Louisiana to Oklahoma City, the windshield of the plane become fully covered in ice due to snow and the pilot's failure to put on the windshield defroster. The pilot made a few circles in the air before he was finally able to see through a small part of the windshield and land the plane. Charles had a spiritual interpretation of the event, claiming that "something or someone which instruments cannot detect" was responsible for allowing the small opening in the ice on the windshield that enabled the pilot to land the plane safely.
The 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, helped to bring country into the mainstream of music. His version of the Don Gibson song, I Can't Stop Loving You topped the Pop chart for five weeks and stayed at No. 1 R&B for ten weeks in 1962. It also gave him his only number one record in the UK. In 1962, he founded his own record label, Tangerine Records, which ABC-Paramount promoted and distributed. He also had major pop hits in 1963 with "Busted" (US No. 4) and Take These Chains From My Heart (US No. 8). With the rise of younger soul performers such as James Brown, Otis Redding and Motown singers such as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and its own blind artist, Stevie Wonder, Charles' successes on the pop and R&B charts peaked after 1964 though he remained a huge concert draw.
In 1965, Charles' career halted after being arrested for a third time for heroin use. He agreed to go to rehab to avoid jail time. Charles kicked his habit at a clinic in Los Angeles. After spending a year on parole, Charles reemerged on the charts in 1966 with a series of hits composed with the fledgling team of Ashford & Simpson including the dance number, "I Don't Need No Doctor", "Let's Go Get Stoned", which became his first No. 1 R&B hit in several years, and "Crying Time", which reached No. 6 on the pop chart and later helped Charles win a Grammy Award the following March. In 1967, he had a top twenty hit with another ballad, "Here We Go Again".
Ray Charles in 1968
1972 meeting of President Nixon and Ray Charles taken by Oliver F. Atkins
Charles' renewed chart success, however, proved to be short lived and by the late 1960s his music was rarely played on radio stations. The rise of psychedelic rock and harder forms of rock and R&B music reduced Charles' radio appeal, as did his choosing to record pop standards and covers of then-modern day rock and soul hits—his earnings from owning his own masters taking away motivation to write new material. Most of his recordings between 1968 and 1973 evoked strong reactions—people either liked them a lot or disliked them a lot. Nonetheless, Charles continued to have an active recording career. Charles' 1972 album, A Message from the People, included his unique gospel-influenced version of "America the Beautiful". The album also include a number of protest songs about poverty and civil rights. In 1974, Charles left ABC Records and recorded several albums on his own Crossover Records label. A 1975 recording of Stevie Wonder's hit "Living for the City" later helped Charles win another Grammy.
In 1977, he reunited with Ahmet Ertegun and re-signed to Atlantic Records where he recorded the album True to Life. However, the label had now begun focusing on rock acts, and some of their prominent soul artists such as Aretha Franklin were starting to be neglected. Charles stayed with his old label until 1980. In November 1977 he appeared as the host of NBC's Saturday Night Live. In April 1979, Charles' version of "Georgia On My Mind" was proclaimed the state song of Georgia. An emotional Charles performed the song on the floor of the state legislature. Though he notably supported the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1960s, Charles would be criticized for performing at South Africa's Sun City resort in 1981 during an international boycott of its apartheid policy.
One of his last public performances, at the 2003 Montreal International Jazz Festival
In 1983, Charles signed a contract with Columbia Records and recorded a string of country albums. Charles also began having a string of country hits often with duet singers such as George Jones, Chet Atkins, B.J. Thomas, Mickey Gilley, Hank Williams, Jr.and lifelong friend Willie Nelson, with whom he recorded the No. 1 country duet, "Seven Spanish Angels". Prior to the release of his first Warner release, Would You Believe, Charles made a return on the R&B charts with a cover of The Brothers Johnson's "I'll Be Good to You", a duet with his lifelong friend Quincy Jones and singer Chaka Khan. The song hit number-one on the R&B charts in 1990 and won Charles and Khan a Grammy for their dual work. Prior to this, Charles returned on the pop charts in another duet, with singer Billy Joel on the song, "Baby Grand" and in 1989, recorded a cover of the Southern All Stars' "Itoshi no Ellie", releasing it as "Ellie My Love" for a Japanese TV ad for Suntory releasing it in Japan where it reached No. 3 on its Oriconchart. Charles' 1993 album, My World became his first album in some time to reach the Billboard 200 and his cover of Leon Russell's "A Song for You" gave him a charted hit on the adult contemporary chart as well as his twelfth and final Grammy he would receive in his lifetime.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Charles was reaching younger audiences with appearances in various films and TV shows. In 1980, he appeared in the film The Blues Brothers. While he never appeared on the show, Charles' version of "Night Time is the Right Time" was played during the popular Cosby Show episode "Happy Anniversary". In 1985, he appeared among a slew of other popular musicians in the USA for Africa charity recording, "We Are the World". Charles' popularity increased among younger audiences in 1991 after he appeared in a series of Diet Pepsi commercials where he popularized the catchphrase "You Got the Right One, Baby", which came from a song by Kenny Ascher, Joseph C. Caro and Helary Jay Lipsitz.
Charles also appeared at two Presidential inaugurations in his lifetime. In 1985, he performed for Ronald Reagan's second inauguration, and in 1993 for Bill Clinton's first. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, Charles made appearances on the Super Dave Osbourne TV show, where he performed and appeared in a few vignettes where he was somehow driving a car, often as Super Dave's chauffeur. During the sixth season of Designing Women, Charles sang "Georgia on My Mind", instead of the song being rendered instrumentally by other musicians as in the previous five seasons. He also appeared in 4 episodes of the popular TV comedy The Nanny in Seasons 4 & 5 (1997 & 1998) as 'Sammy', in one episode singing "My Yiddish Mamma" to December romance and later fiancee of character Gramma Yetta, played by veteran actress Ann Guilbert. From 2001-2002, Charles appeared in commercials for the New Jersey Lottery to promote its "For every dream, there's a jackpot" campaign.
On October 28, 2001, several weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, Charles appeared during Game 2 of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks andNew York Yankees and performed "America the Beautiful".
In 2003, Ray Charles headlined the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C. where the President, First Lady, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice attended. He also presented one of his greatest admirers, Van Morrison, with his award upon being inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the two sang Morrison's song "Crazy Love". This performance appears on Morrison's 2007 album, The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3. In 2003, Charles performed "Georgia On My Mind" and "America the Beautiful" at a televised annual electronic media journalist banquet held in Washington, D.C. His final public appearance came on April 30, 2004, at the dedication of his music studio as ahistoriclandmark in the city of Los Angeles.
Ray Charles was married twice and had twelve children with ten different women. Charles had his first child, Evelyn, in 1949 with his then girlfriend, Louise Flowers. Several years later, Charles had his first marriage with Eileen Williams, which only lasted from July 31, 1951 to 1952.
Charles' second marriage with Della Beatrice Howard Robinson began April 5, 1955 and lasted 12 or 13 years. Charles referred to Robinson as "B", and the two had their first child together, Ray Jr., in 1955. When Ray Jr. was born, Charles was not in town because he was playing a show in Texas. At first, Charles was afraid to hold his son because he was so small, but he got over his fear after a few months. The couple would have two other children, David and Robert, in 1958 and 1960, respectively. During their marriage, Charles felt that his heroin addiction took a toll on Robinson.
Charles had another son, Charles Wayne, in 1959 during his six-year-long affair with Margie Hendricks, one of the original Raelettes. In 1961 a daughter, Raenee, was born during an affair with Mae Mosely Lyles. Two years later in 1963 Charles and Sandra Jean Betts had a daughter, Sheila Raye Charles Robinson. In 1966 a daughter, Alicia, was born by a woman who remains unidentified to this day, followed by another daughter, Alexandra, born to a woman named Chantal Bertrand. Charles' next child, Vincent, came from a relationship with Arlette Kotchounian following his divorce from Della Howard in 1977. Daughter, Robyn, was born a year later to a woman named Gloria Moffett. Charles' youngest child, son Ryan Corey, was born in 1987 to Mary Anne den Bok. Charles' long-term girlfriend and partner at the time of his death was Norma Pinella.
Charles first introduced himself to drugs when he played in McSon Trio. He was eager to try drugs since he thought it helped musicians create music and tap into their creativity. He first experimented with marijuana and later became addicted to heroin, which he struggled with for sixteen years. He faced arrest in the 1950s when he and his bandmates were caught backstage with loose marijuana and drug paraphernalia, including a burnt spoon, syringe and needle. The arrest did not deter Charles' drug use, which only escalated as he became more successful and made more money.
On November 14, 1961, Charles was arrested again on a narcotics charge in an Indiana hotel room, where he waited to perform. The detectives seized heroin, marijuana and other items. Charles, then 31, stated that he had been a drug addict since the age of 16. While the case was dismissed because of the manner in which the evidence was obtained, Charles's situation did not improve until a few years later. Individuals such as Quincy Jones and Reverend Henry Griffin felt that those around Charles were responsible for his drug use.
In 1964, Charles was arrested for possession of marijuana and heroin. Following a self-imposed stay at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California, Charles received five years' probation. Charles responded to the saga of his drug use and reform with the songs "I Don't Need No Doctor", "Let's Go Get Stoned", and the release of his first album since having kicked his heroin addiction in 1966, Crying Time.
Charles played chess using a special board with holes for the pieces and raised squares. Charles referred to Willie Nelson as "my chess partner" in a 1991 concert. In 2002, he played and lost to American Grandmaster and former U.S. Champion Larry Evans. In 2001, Morehouse College honored Charles with the Candle Award for Lifetime Achievement in Arts and Entertainment, and later that same year granted him an honorary doctor of humane letters. It is also the year that Charles and his longtime business manager, Joe Adams, gave a gift of $1 million to Morehouse, where Charles had approved plans for the building of the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center.
In 2003, Charles had a successful hip replacement surgery and was planning to go back on tour, until he began suffering from other ailments. On June 10, 2004, Charles died as a result of acute liver disease. Charles died at his home in Los Angeles, California, surrounded by family and friends. He was 73 years old. His funeral took place on June 18, 2004, at the First AME Church in Los Angeles, with musical peers such as Little Richard in attendance.B.B. King, Glen Campbell, Stevie Wonder and Wynton Marsalis each played a tribute at Charles' funeral. Charles' body was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery.
Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6777 Hollywood Blvd
His final album, Genius Loves Company, released two months after his death, consists of duets with various admirers and contemporaries: B.B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, and Johnny Mathis. The album won eight Grammy Awards, including five for Best Pop Vocal Album, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for "Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones, and Best Gospel Performance for "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight; he also received nods for his duets with Elton John and B.B. King. The album included a version of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow", sung as a duet by Charles and Johnny Mathis; this record was played at his memorial service.
Two more posthumous albums, Genius & Friends (2005) and Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006), were released. Genius & Friends consisted of duets recorded from 1997 to 2005 with his choice of artists including "Big Bad Love" with Diana Ross. Ray Sings, Basie Swings consists of archived vocals of Ray Charles from live mid-1970s performances added to new instrumental tracks specially recorded by the contemporary Count Basie Orchestra and other musicians. Charles's vocals recorded from the concert mixing board were added to new accompaniments to create a "fantasy concert" recording.
Statue by Andy Davis in Ray Charles Plaza in Albany, Georgia
Charles possessed one of the most recognizable voices in American music. In the words of musicologist Henry Pleasants:
Sinatra, and Bing Crosby before him, had been masters of words. Ray Charles is a master of sounds. His records disclose an extraordinary assortment of slurs, glides, turns, shrieks, wails, breaks, shouts, screams and hollers, all wonderfully controlled, disciplined by inspired musicianship, and harnessed to ingenious subtleties of harmony, dynamics and rhythm... It is either the singing of a man whose vocabulary is inadequate to express what is in his heart and mind or of one whose feelings are too intense for satisfactory verbal or conventionally melodic articulation. He can’t tell it to you. He can’t even sing it to you. He has to cry out to you, or shout to you, in tones eloquent of despair — or exaltation. The voice alone, with little assistance from the text or the notated music, conveys the message.
His style and success in the genres of rhythm and blues and jazz had an influence on a number of highly successful artists, includingElvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, and Billy Joel. According to Joe Levy, a music editor for Rolling Stone, "The hit records he made for Atlantic in the mid-50's mapped out everything that would happen to rock 'n' roll and soul music in the years that followed".
On December 7, 2007, the Ray Charles Plaza was opened in his hometown of Albany, Georgia. The plaza features a revolving, lighted bronze sculpture of Charles seated at apiano and the plaza's dedication was attended by his daughter, Sheila Raye Charles.
On August 4, 2013, in an interview with the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters stated: "I was about 15. In the middle of the night with friends, we were listening to jazz. It was "Georgia on My Mind", Ray Charles's version. Then I thought 'One day, if I make some people feel only one twentieth of what I am feeling now, it will be quite enough for me.'"
In 1979, Charles was one of the first of the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame to be recognized as a musician born in the state. Ray's version of "Georgia On My Mind" was made the official state song for Georgia. In 1981, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was one of the first inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural ceremony in 1986. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986.
In 1987, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991, he was inducted to the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 1998 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize together with Ravi Shankar in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2004 he was inducted to the National Black Sports & Entertainment Hall of Fame. The Grammy Awards of 2005 were dedicated to Charles.
In 2003, Charles was awarded an honorary degree by Dillard University. Upon his death, he endowed a professorship of African-American culinary history at the school, which is the first such chair in the nation. A $20 million performing arts center at Morehouse College was named after Charles and was dedicated in September 2010.
The United States Postal Service issued a forever stamp honoring Ray Charles as part of it Musical Icons series on September 23, 2013.
On March 15, 1961, not long after releasing the hit song "Georgia on My Mind" (1960), Charles (born in Albany, Georgia) was scheduled to perform for a dance at Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia. However, he cancelled after learning from students of Paine College that the larger auditorium dance floor would be restricted to whites, while blacks would be obligated to sit in the Music Hall balcony; he immediately left town after letting the public know why he wouldn't be performing. The promoter sued Charles for breach of contract, Charles was fined $757 in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta on June 14, 1962. Although the 2004 film Ray portrays Charles as being banned from performing thereafter in Georgia, this was later reported to be untrue. However, Charles performed again at a desegregrated Bell Auditorium concert the following year with his backup group, the Raelettes, on October 23, 1963.
Founded in 1986, The Ray Charles Foundation maintains the mission statement of financially supporting institutions and organizations researching hearing disorders. The foundations original title, "The Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders" was renamed to its current state in 2006, and has since provided financial donations to numerous institutions involved in hearing loss research and education. The organizations philanthropic views stem from Ray Charles' own views toward giving, as the musician often contributed cochlear implant donations to those who could not afford the procedure. Specifically, the purpose of the Foundation has been "to administer funds for scientific, educational and charitable purposes; to encourage, promote and educate, through grants to institutions and organizations, as to the causes and cures for diseases and disabilities of the hearing impaired and to assist organizations and institutions in their social educational and academic advancement of programs for the youth, and carry on other charitable and educational activities associated with these goals as allowed by law".
Recipients of donations include Benedict College, Morehouse College, and numerous other universities. The foundation has taken action against donation recipients which do not use funds in accordance to its mission statement; in such cases where the Albany University of Georgia was made to return its $3 Million donation after not using its funds for over a decade. The foundation currently houses its executive offices at the RPM International Building, originally the home of Ray Charles Enterprises, Inc. The first floor of this historic building is also home to the Ray Charles Memorial Library, founded on September 23, 2010 (what would be Charles' 80th birthday). This library was founded to "provide an avenue for young children to experience music and art in a way that will inspire their creativity and imagination". The library is not open to the public without reservation, as the main goal is to educate mass groups of underprivileged youth and provide art and history to those without access to such documents.
Main article: Ray Charles discography