Ray Charles – The First African-American Musicians to Merge the Blues with Gospel

1 Posted by - March 8, 2023 - Black First, Black History

Ray Charles Robinson was one of the most talented singers, musician, and composer, who served the American music industry most prominently. He was one of the first African-American musicians to collaborate the blues with the gospel to pave a successful way for the betterment of rhythm and blues (R&B). Robinson was born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia. By birth, he was a healthy child but began to go blind at the age of five. At the age of seven, he lost his sight completely and was unable to see the grace of the world. His mother made a great effort to make him self-sufficient, and for this reason she sent him to the St. Augustine School for Deaf and Blind. It was one of the racially segregated schools in Florida that had only Black students. Robinson learned music in Braille and also learned to play both jazz and classical music on the piano.

Sadly, Robinson’s mother passed away when he was just 15-years-old. He was all on his own and decided to move to Seattle, Washington to continue his musical journey. Through passion and hard work, he became a professional musician by the year 1948. He shortened his name to Ray Charles and formed his amazing trio. Robinson had become one of the local sensations by the time he turned 20, in the most popular bars and clubs on the Seattle’s Jackson Street.

In 1952, Ray Charles signed a musical agreement with the Atlanta Records which is one of the largest music labels in the country. Robinson’s initial singing style was inspired by some of the prominent artists such as Charles Brown and Nat King Cole.  But during 1955, Robinson changed his overall style when he recorded his first hit that was gospel-inspired “I Got a Woman.” In 1959, he recorded “What’d I Say” along with a female backup group called the Raelettes to his musical lineup. This amazing composition made him one of the leading R&B artists in the whole nation.

During the 1960s, Robinson released R&B, pop and western music sensations, influenced many artists and developed a unique fan following in each genre. In 1965, during the peak of his career, Ray Charles took a one-year long break just to overcome his heroin addiction and was later arrested on drug charges. After his arrest and release, he continued his musical journey and died on June 10, 1994, due to some severe health issues.

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