Ray Charles
National Visionary

September 30, 1930 - June 10, 2004
Born in Albany Georgia

Singer, Musician, Composer

Ray Charles was one of the best known and most widely respected performers in contemporary music. His powerful influence as a singer, musician, and composer, revolutionized many genres of American music, including rhythm and blues, soul, country, jazz, pop, and rock.

Read an open letter
to Ray Charles
from a R.I.C.H.
Born on September 30, 1930 in Albany, Georgia, Charles was raised in extreme poverty in Greenville, Florida. “Even compared to other blacks, we were on the bottom of the ladder looking up at everyone else,” Charles recalled in his autobiography, Brother Ray. “Nothing below us except the ground.”

Charles persevered over the personal tragedies that marked his early life. He contracted glaucoma at age 5, lost his sight completely by age 7, and lost his parents soon thereafter. In spite of these hardships, Charles learned to read and write music in Braille, and became skilled on several musical instruments at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind. Charles later told Jet Magazine that his mother’s advice guided him through life. “You might not be able to do things like a person who can see. But there are always two ways to do everything. You’ve just got to find the other way.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Ray Charles indeed found a way, and his legacy has paved the way for many others. Throughout his career, he was credited with influencing countless other musicians, including Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Steve Winwood, and Joe Cocker. The music industry has repeatedly paid tribute to his creative genius with its highest honors. He received 12 Grammy awards, including the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been inducted into numerous separate Halls of Fame and serves as honorary Lifetime Chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

To say that whatever genre of music he performed or wrote was well received is an understatement. He is the only artist to have a Top 10 hit on the Billboard charts across five different musical genres.

Many of his songs have become musical-cultural touchstones. His classic rendering of “Georgia On My Mind” was officially named Georgia’s state song in 1979. And in 2003, the Library of Congress selected his long-standing hit, “What’d I Say,” as one of the first 50 historic recordings to be preserved in the new National Recording Registry.

Clearly, his sound is unique and timeless. His pioneering approach to music was legendary. Ray Charles and his music touched millions. He was an international phenomenon and a national treasure.


Open letter to Ray Charles from RICH student (Learn about RICH)

Joe Adams' Visionary page (Long-time manager of Charles)

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/charlesray