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Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004) was an American musician known as Ray Charles (to avoid confusion with champion boxer Sugar Ray Robinson). He was a pioneer in the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records. He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his Modern Sounds albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Frank Sinatra called Charles “the only true genius in show business,” although Charles never believed that about himself.
The influences upon his music were mainly jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and country artists of the day such as Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, Charles Brown, Louis Armstrong. His playing reflected influences from country blues, barrelhouse and stride piano styles.
Rolling Stone ranked Charles number ten on their list of "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" in 2004, and number two on their November 2008 list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". In honoring Charles, Billy Joel noted: "This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley.Ray Charles Robinson was the son of Aretha (Williams) Robinson, a sharecropper, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman. Aretha was a devout Christian and the family attended the New Shiloh Baptist Church. When Ray was an infant, his family moved from Albany, Georgia, where he was born, to the poor black community on the western side of Greenville, Florida. In his early years, Charles showed a curiosity for mechanical things and he often watched the neighborhood men working on their cars and farm machinery. His musical curiosity was sparked at Mr. Wiley Pit's Red Wing Cafe when Pit played boogie woogie on an old upright piano. Pit would care for George, Ray's brother, so as to take the burden off Aretha. However, George drowned in Aretha's laundry tub when he was four years old. After witnessing the death of his brother, Ray would feel an overwhelming sense of guilt later on in life.
Charles started to lose his sight at the age of five and went completely blind by the age of seven, apparently due to glaucoma. He attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine from 1937 to 1945, where he developed his musical talent. During this time he performed on WFOY radio in St. Augustine. His father died when he was 10, his mother five years later.
In school, Charles was taught only classical music, but he wanted to play the jazz and blues he heard on the family radio. While at school, he became the school's premier musician. On Fridays, the South Campus Literary Society held assemblies where Charles would play piano and sing popular songs. On Halloween and Washington's birthday, the Colored Department of the school had socials where Charles would play. It was here he established "RC Robinson and the Shop Boys" and sang his own arrangement of "Jingle Bell Boogie." He spent his first Christmas at the school, but later the staff pitched in so that Charles could return to Greenville, as he did each summer.
Henry and Alice Johnson, who owned a store not unlike Mr. Pit's store in Greenville, moved to the French town section of Tallahassee, just west of Greenville; they, as well as Freddy and Margaret Bryant, took Charles in.
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