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Ray Charles was a multi music icon of the twentieth century. Although he was a very successful musician, he endured many hardships as a young kid. He lost many family members at a young age and went completely blind by the age of seven. Charles used music as a coping mechanism for his early struggles, more specifically his piano skills. Ray Charles overcame adversity as a blind musician, a former addict, and an African American male in the late 1900s’.
Ray Charles was born on September 23rd, 1930 in Albany, Georgia. Ray Charles did not live a childhood that many people dream of. He had to face many hardships and obstacles to become a well-established, successful singer and pianist. Through Ray’s childhood years, he experienced many traumatizing deaths. At the age of five, he lost his younger brother, who drowned in a washtub. At the age of ten, he lost his father, soon followed by his mother at the age of fifteen. Ray Charles did not live a wealthy life; in fact, his parents were poor, which meant they could not afford to get medical treatment. When he was five, shortly following his brother’s death, Ray was diagnosed with degenerative eye disease glaucoma. Since his parents were so poor, they could not afford treatment. His condition ultimately led to his full blindness at the age of seven. After Ray lost all of his siblings and parents, he began to rely on himself and his music. His mother would always tell him, “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 (Gale 1).” This statement would later inspire him to overcome adversity and become one of the most significant singer pianists in the 1950s and the rest of his career.
After Charles’ mother died, Charles began to travel. He had adjusted to the blindness that struck him eight years earlier. At the age of fifteen, Charles took part in the “Chitlin Circuit” in the south (Ray, 1). One year later, Charles moved from Greenville, Florida to Seattle, where his music career would ultimately take off. He began to perform with different musical groups and originally took most of his musical influence from Charles Brown and Nat King Cole. He idealized both men, as they had distinctive musical styles. In fact, Charles’ original sound would be influenced by these two, along with many other musicians and musical factors. Around the age of nineteen, Charles would release his first song “Confession Blues” accompanied by the Maxin Trio. This was Charles’ first single, and it did surprisingly well. In addition, years later, Charles released many other singles which would also be featured on popular R&B music charts. In spite of his blindness, Charles’ career began to take off and the public loved him. At the age of twenty, Charles would reach number one on the charts with his hit single “I Got a Woman” (Ray 2). After this single was released, the idea of his mixed musical template began to become very popular during the period. This new template was known as “Soul Music”
Ray Charles, who was born in the 1930s, grew up in a racially segregated world. Charles would have to over come adversity to accomplish his dreams. Ray Charles is notably known for valuing cultural practices of African Americans. He used these practices in his song makings and performances. Charles’ musical heritage consisted of various styles including gospel, blues, country, classical, and jazz (Morris 1). He would later become known as “The Genius” because of his childhood struggles. Charles is credited with being one of the creators of the soul music genre, which was widely popular in the 1950s and 60s. He had many accomplishments, which distinctively separated him from the rest of the musicians during his time. Charles’ most notable achievements were his list of songs consisting of “Unchain My Heart”, “Hit the Road Jack”, and more (Morris 1).
One of Ray Charles’ first serious challenges was his loss of sight at such a young age. At age seven, Ray had completely lost his vision. After going blind, Charles attended a school for the deaf and blind (Gale). While attending the school for the deaf and blind, Charles learned to read, recite, and compose music in braille (Gale 1). Soon after he learned to play various instruments consisting of the clarinet, trumpet, and most importantly the keyboard. Charles’ most influential role models were Art Tatum, Bud Powell, King Cole, and Oscar Peterson (Gale 1). One of Charles’ most significant factors of his upbringing and success was his piano skills.
At a young age, Charles became addicted to heroin. This addiction would trouble him for many years. In 1965, Charles was arrested for possession of heroin. This was unexpected by many, but nonetheless, he sought out treatment after this incident. After his arrest, he entered rehab to treat his addiction. He overcame his habit within months of entering the Los Angeles rehab clinic (Biography 2).
Several years after leaving rehab, Charles had to have hip surgery. This put a wrench in his tour and musical plans. By this time, he was 73 years old and was getting to a point of retirement. Months later, Charles was diagnosed with liver disease (Biography 3). Less than a year after being diagnosed, Charles passed away. As friends and fans mourned his death, a long-time friend, Quincy Jones, said this, “There will never be another musician who did as much to break down the perceived walls of musical genres” (Biography 4). Ray Charles was and is to this day one of music’s most important artists, composers, and performers.
In conclusion, music during the late twentieth century was a mix of blues, gospel, country, R&B and other musical styles. Charles was a “pioneer” of the newfound soul music of the period (Contemporary 1). Ray Charles faced many challenges during his life, some unavoidable and some he is self-inflicted upon himself. Likewise, Charles still overcame adversity to become the musician he is known as today. He has many hit singles across all genres of music, topping the charts many times. His most famous song being “Hit the Road, Jack”.
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