Ray Charles

Ray Charles (23.09.1930 - 10.06.2004)

Ray Charles was born into conditions of extreme poverty on 23 September 1930 in Albany, Georgia, in the USA. His eyesight first began to deteriorate at the age of five, and he became completely blind just a year later.

After his family moved home, he grew up in a poor district of Greenville, Florida, where the playing of local pianist Wylie Pitman gave him his first taste of music. While attending the state school for the blind in St. Augustine, the young Charles was fundamentally influenced by such figures as Art Tatum and Nat King Cole and by musical styles such as swing, gospel, blues and country.

After the death of his beloved mother in 1945, Ray Charles decided to go to Jacksonville, Florida to work with local groups of musicians instead of completing his education. It was in Tampa that he first met guitarist Gosady McGee, who was to become a close friend for the rest of his Charles' life.

In March 1948 Ray Charles moved to Seattle, where he rapidly acquired an enviable reputation on the local music scene. He was soon followed to the Pacific Northwest by McGee and bassist Milton Garred, and together they formed a band, the McSon Trio ('Mc' for McGee, 'Son' for Robinson), playing light jazz and blues in the style of Nat King Cole.

Following their discovery by a record company, the group eventually put down their first studio recordings in 1949. Although the group initially recorded under the name of 'The Maxin Trio', they were later to work simply using the name Ray Charles.

Ray moved to Los Angeles, dropping the trio to work for two years as musical director of blues musician Lowell Fulson, who he toured with.

After his original record label encountered financial difficulties in 1951, a competitor company bought Ray Charles out of his recording contract.

By November 1954, Ray Charles had made a number of recordings for his new employer and assembled a 'quality combo' consisting of himself, Donald Wilkerson on tenor sax and David 'Fathead' Newman on baritone sax. The track 'I've Got A Woman', which appeared that same month, was the first to break the musical taboo of the time which dictated that blues and gospel should never be mixed.

The song enabled Ray Charles to make his breakthrough, hitting No.1 in the US R&B charts. From this point onwards, his rise and rise became unstoppable.

Ray Charles died on 10 June 2004.