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Ray Charles playing his piano

Ray Charles Robinson, born Sept. 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia, grew up in a poor household in Greensville, Florida. His father was a handyman, his mother a washerwoman who also stacked boards in a sawmill and his younger brother George died when Charles was four years old from drowning in a washing tub.

Charles was diagnosed with glaucoma and became fully blind by age six. He was sent to the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, where he studied music and learned how to read and write braile. By the time Charles was 15, both of his parents passed away, and he left the school, traveling around Florida performing in dance bands.

When Charles was 17, he moved to Seattle, where he became a nightclub performer. He was praised for his music, which imitated his idol, Nat King Cole, but Charles soon made a name for himself when he developed his own sound, a blend of gospel, blues, R&B and soul music.

By the early 1950s, Charles landed a record deal with Atlantic Records. He hadn't been with the agency for a full decade yet before leaving it in 1959 for ABC, where he recorded an album that reached a white audience, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

Charles still had his struggles, though. He had a heroin addiction for 20 years and was once arrested for drug posession and forced to stay in a California rehabilitation center.

But upon overcoming his drug obstacles, Charles went on to win 12 Grammy awards, not to mention the top R&B recording three years in a row. In 1979, his rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" was deemed Georgia's state song. And in the 1980s he kept his popularity alive with his role in The Blues Brothers movie as well as Pepsi commericals.

Charles recorded dozens of albums before passing away at age 73 in June of 2004 from liver disease complications. His final album, Genius & Friends, released two months after his death and featured artists such as Elton John and Willie Nelson.

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