Many musicians possess elements of genius, but only one -- the great Ray Charles -- so completely
embodies the term that it's been bestowed upon him as a nickname. Charles displayed his genius by
combining elements of gospel and blues into a fervid, exuberant style that would come to be known as
soul music. While recording for Atlantic Records during the Fifties, the innovative singer, pianist and
bandleader broke down the barriers between sacred and secular music. The gospel sound he'd heard
growing up in the church found its way into the music he made as an adult. In his own words, he fostered
"a crossover between gospel music and the rhythm patterns of the blues." But he didn't stop there: over
the decades, elements of country & western and big-band jazz have infused his music as well. He is as
complete and well-rounded a musical talent as this century has produced.
in Albany, Georgia, on September 23, 1930, Charles was raised in Greenville,
Florida, where he
made the acquaintance of a piano-playing neighbor. As a youngster, Charles apprenticed with him at his
small store-cum-juke joint while digesting the blues, boogie-woogie and big-band swing records on his
jukebox. At age six, he contracted glaucoma, which eventually left him blind. Charles studied
composition and mastered a variety of instruments, piano and saxophone principal among them, during
nine years spent at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind. Thereafter, he played around
Florida in a variety of bands and then headed for the West Coast, where he led a jazz-blues trio that
performed in the polished style of Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. After cutting singles for labels
such as Downbeat and Swingtime, Charles wound up on Atlantic Records in 1952. It turned out to be
an ideal match between artist and label, as both were just beginning to find their feet.
artistic control at Atlantic after demonstrating his knack as an arranger
with Guitar Slim's "Things
That I Used to Do" -- the biggest R&B hit of 1954 -- Charles responded with a string of recordings in
which he truly found his voice. This extended hit streak, which carried him through the end of the
decade, included such unbridled R&B milestones as "I Got a Woman," "Hallelujah I Love Her So,"
"Drown in My Own Tears" and the feverish call-and-response classic "What'd I Say." All were sung in
Charles' gruff, soulful voice and accompanied by the percussive punctuations of his piano and a horn
section. After his groundbreaking Atlantic years, Charles moved to ABC/Paramount, where he claimed
the unlikeliest of genres as his own with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, an album that
topped the Billboard chart for 14 weeks in 1962. He has remained active as a performer and recording
artist through to the present day, still pursuing that uncategorizable blend of idioms that is best described
with a single word: soul.
just what is soul, according to Ray Charles? As he told Time magazine in
1968, "It's a force that
can light a room. The force radiates from a sense of selfhood, a sense of knowing where you've been
and what it means. Soul is a way of life -- but it's always the hard way."
Ray Charles Lyrics