Ray Charles — a versatile and innovative singer and songwriter, a remarkable pianist and a soul music pioneer — was born Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga., roughly 70 miles north of the state’s border with Florida, where the family would move when Ray was still an infant.
Though born with sight, he began to lose his vision during childhood and was blind by age seven. For nine years he attended a school for the blind in St. Augustine, where he learned how to write music and play several instruments, including the piano.
Charles gained experience performing on the road, then moved to Seattle, where he recorded his first single, Confession Blues, in 1949. He signed with Atlantic Records in 1953 and released a number of early hits including Mess Around and I’ve Got a Woman.
His success continued after signing with ABC in 1959, where he recorded Georgia on my Mind, Hit the Road Jack, and his interpretation of the country song I Can’t Stop Loving You.
Charles toured the world extensively, performing an ever-expanding roster of hits.
Though known primarily for his success in rhythm-and-blues and soul music, he recorded country songs, jazz instrumentals and gospel music, and crossed over into the pop charts with great success.
Charles would eventually win 12 Grammy awards, including a lifetime achievement award, and would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the first year of its existence. He received the Kennedy Center Honors that same year, and was named a Library of Congress Living Legend in 2000.
Charles has been cited as a musical genius and a consummate innovator, and an influence on many musicians including Billy Joel, Van Morrison and Stevie Wonder.
A forever stamp honoring Ray Charles was issued Sept. 23, 2013, in the Music Icons commemorative series (Scott 4807).