Ray Charles

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  • Topic: Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx, Country music
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Ray Charles

The 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...
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