Creative Person of the Week

2 Mar

Ray Charles Robinson was the son of Aretha Robinson, a sharecropper, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman. Aretha Williams 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 Williams. However, George drowned in the Williams’ bath 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.

Ray Charles started to lose his sight at the age of five. He 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 and his mother died five years after.

In school, Charles was taught only classical music, but he wanted to play the jazz and blues he heard on the family radio.[14] 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; and they, as well as Freddy and Margaret Bryant, took Charles in. He worked the register in the Bryants’ store under the direction of Lucille Bryant, their daughter. It’s said he loved Tallahassee and often used the drug store delivery boy’s motorbike to run up and down hills using the exhaust sound of a friend’s bike to guide him. Charles found Tallahassee musically exciting too and sat in with the Florida A&M University student band. He played with the Adderley brothers, Nat and Cannonball, and began playing gigs with Lawyer Smith and his Band in 1943 at the Red Bird Club and Deluxe Clubs in Frenchtown and roadhouse theaters around Tallahassee, as well as the Governor’s Ball.

LEGACY

In 1979, Charles was one of the first of the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame to be recognized as a musician born in the state. Ray’s version of “Georgia On My Mind” was made the official state song for Georgia.[49] In 1981, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was one of the first inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural ceremony in 1986. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986.

In 1987, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991, he was inducted to the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 1998 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize together with Ravi Shankar in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2004 he was inducted to the Jazz Hall of Fame, and inducted to the National Black Sports & Entertainment Hall of Fame. The Grammy Awards of 2005 were dedicated to Charles.

On December 7, 2007, Ray Charles Plaza was opened in Albany, Georgia, with a revolving, lighted bronze sculpture of Charles seated at a piano. Later that month, on December 26, 2007, Ray Charles was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. He was also presented with the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, during the 1991 UCLA Spring Sing.

In 2003, Charles was awarded an honorary degree by Dillard University. Upon his death, he endowed a professorship of African-American culinary history at the school, which is the first such chair in the nation.[55] A $20 million performing arts center at Morehouse College was named after Charles and was dedicated in September 2010.

The biopic Ray, an October 2004 film portrays his life and career between 1930 and 1969 and stars Jamie Foxx as Charles.

The RPM International building is located on the corner of Westmorland Blvd. and Washington BlvD., which is also dedicated as the “Ray Charles Square”.

 

(To read more, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Charles)

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