Ray Charles Robinson was born on 23rd September 1930 in Albany Georgia. He is the pioneer of soul music that became very popular among the Americans irrespective of their race despite the fact that he was blind. Soul music cannot be mentioned without talking about him. Ray was black American who was very talented and was able to invent his new music genre by secularizing some aspects such as the structures, chords, vocal streams as well as wails and moans of other types of music. After he was seven years old, 1937- 45 Ray Charles joined St Augustine which was a school for both the blind and the deaf. It is while he was in this place that learned how to play piano, clarinet and saxophone. He also learned how to write and read Braille. Who was Ray Charles and what role did he play in the music industry? This and many other things related to music is what this research paper will focus on.
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The father of the soul music or a music genius as he was known was son to Aretha Williams and Bailey Robinson although unfortunately they were not married. His mother worked in a saw mill whereas his father could be said to have been a jack of all because he was a mechanic, railroad repairer and a handyman at the same time. According to SwingMusic.Net Ray Charles was not blind but started turning blind when he was five years old and by the time he was seven years old, he was completely blind.
“At three years, he was absorbing the bright world as any other three-year old did. Ray remembers playing in the pine forests. He remembers the pecans from the trees in Greenville. He also remembers those pigs, cows and chickens from his youth.”(Beyer M. 11)
Ray was born at a time when there was great depression in the South and during this period, only country music, gospel, jazz and blues were popular. Because of his love for music, he used to travel with various music bands to their concerts. His first interest in music could be said to have started back in the days when he used to attend cafes and dinners at Greenville and to be specific, the Red Wing café where a piano was played. He would muster some courage to tell its owner Wylie Pitman to play it. He started to realize that music was part of him and could even feel it in his bones when he was only three years. He could feel hear musical rhythms and notes and know whether they were ok or not. (Beyer M., 12)
Before she died her mother Aretha had always wanted to ensure that Ray would grow to be an independent and self sufficient man although he was turning blind. Just like other artists who say that they ventured in the art of music after they were inspired by some music idols, Ray too was not an exception. He would emulate some musicians such as Nat King Cole to such an extent that his audience would say he sounded like him. (Winski N., 67)
As we noted earlier that he learned how to play musical instruments and write music while still he was at St, Augustine, he also tried to familiarize himself with various bands such as jazz, Tampa and hillbilly which was also known as The Florida Playboys. It is while he was here that he learned his unique style of wearing dark glasses.
During vacation times, Ray spent much of his time reading books and quenching his artistic desires and when Ray’s family moved from Greenville to Tallahassee, Ray got an opportunity to know some people who gave him moral support and motivated him something that helped in shaping his destiny. Later, he moved to Jacksonville and discovered that the place was much better that Tallahassee in terms of music job opportunities and that was why he came to like the place. (Winski, 95)
As time went by, he moved to Florida and Orlando where he became very popular at playing piano. At this time Ray was not yet able to come up with his own songs and played those of other artists such as Nat king and Charles Brown. According to Charles Ray’s Biography, throughout his career, he skillfully gathered and artistically combined certain aspects of music to come up with his own music genre, soul. His discovery completely changed his personality from that of a blind man to that of a music star.
When Ray was 17 years old, he moved to Seattle with the little money he had saved to look for better music opportunities. Here he performed in Maxim Trio which basically used the music style of Chris Brown and that of Cole Nat King. After a period of one year, this group produced its first masterpiece. According to Mark (2003, 54) it is during this time that Ray started indulging in hard drugs something that would later land him in troubles. At this period he started to shine in show business and decided to drop his last name Robinson to prevent being confused with boxing star Sugar Ray Robinson. (SwingMusic.Net, 2007)
In the year that followed, he wrote a song that turned to be a national hit Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand although the black culture was despised by the whites with the exception of that of some black artists such as Nat King, Chris Brown and Louis Armstrong. Later, he signed a contract with Atlantic Records and released his first singles that made it to the charts It Should Have Been Me and the Mess Around. He spent the rest of the 1950s trying to combine jazz music, gospel and blues to produce hits such as What’d Say, Hit the Road Jack, In My Own Tears and Georgia on My Mind. (Winski N., 1994)
Though he played all types of music, his interest in music tended to lean on the spiritual side because most of his songs talk about his past experiences. He was very original when it came to music and refused to be swept away by the music waves of his time. “Rock and Roll had burst onto the music world in 1995. Ray didn’t change with it. He used what suited his style and left the rest to the kids coming up.”(Beyer, 59)
Due to his dynamic style of combining music, a new turning point both in music and in his life was witnessed. To succeed in music he knew that it was of essence his band to be comprised only of those people who knew his goals and shared his sentiments. Ray claimed that he only did what was natural to him and insisted that the music he produced came direct from his soul. He tried to encourage and influence the youth both Blacks and Whites to appreciate what black artists like him, Nat King, Little Richard and Chick Berry were doing in music. (Winski, 158)
Before the end of 1955, Ray started to experiment on how his band would be if he included females in his back up and sooner than later, he discovered that their feminine voice combined very well with masculine voice. This discovery added uniqueness to his music and he would go with his back up to wherever he went to perform. Unfortunately he was arrested in 1964 for using Heroine drugs, a habit that he started back in the 1940s. He was put in California Sanitarium rehab where he decided to quit using drugs and was given a suspended sentence of five years. He returned to his career although his releases in the 1970s were either a hit or miss. His popularity was not greatly affected by being arrested and he even performed in presidential inaugurations for example that of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in 1985 and 1993 respectively. He also performed in other big shows like the one that was held in Rome in 2002 and in a televised media journalist banquet in Washington Dc in 2003. Unfortunately, in the following year on 10th June, 2004, Ray Charles succumbed to liver complications.
In short, the life of Ray Charles was a life that was greatly driven by musical passions. He started to develop interest in music while he was still very young. Though he turned blind at a very tender age, his career never ended and continued to grow and develop to greater heights till his death. Just like other artists, he was inspired by music idols such as Cole Nat king. These people and especially Nat King was his role model and helped him to become what he was. Ray started using heroine in 1940s and continued with the habit for about twenty years until he was arrested and put in a rehabilitation centre in 1964. He was an innovative musician who was able to come up with a new music genre which was a combination of various types of music such as jazz, blues and gospel music. It was for this reason that Ray came to be referred as the father of soul music.
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