Wednesday, October 27, 2004

1930: Born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Ga., on Sept. 23. The family later moves to north Florida, where he spends his formative years.

1935: Develops glaucoma shortly after witnessing his younger brother, George, drown in a wash tub. Within a year, he’s completely blind.

1937: Enters the then-segregated St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Fla., as a charity case. There, he learns to read Braille and write music, while also learning to play classical piano and clarinet. Both his parents would die by the time he was 15. His mother, Eretha, was just 31.

1947: After working with assorted bands in Florida, including country music ensembles, he moves to Seattle and meets another young musician — Quincy Jones — within days of his arrival. The two will remain lifelong friends. While in Seattle, he forms a Nat “King” Cole-style trio that performs at a slew of local venues. He also drops his last name, Robinson, to avoid confusion with the popular middleweight boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson.

1948: Records “Confession Blues,” his first of several R&B hits, for Jack Lauderdale’s Down Beat (later Swing Time) label. He also tries heroin for the first time.

1951: Marries Eileen Williams on July 31. The couple had one child, and the marriage ended a year later.

1952: Atlantic Records, a fledgling label founded by Turkish immigrant Ahmet Ertegun (then 24 and the son of the wartime Turkish ambassador to the United States) and New York jazz collector Herb Abramson, buys his Swing Time contract for $2,500. Mr. Charles also goes on the road with Atlantic’s reigning blues queen, Ruth Brown, and first begins mixing the blues with gospel music.

1953: Records his first Atlantic single, “Mess Around” (written by Mr. Ertegun, the label’s co-founder); begins band with his longtime friend, saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman.

1954: His string of hits with Atlantic begins with “It Should Have Been Me” followed by “I Got a Woman,” “Drown in My Tears” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So.” Churchgoers initially condemned “I Got A Woman” upon its release as an “abomination of the church,” Mr. Charles recalled.

1955: Marries Della Beatrice Howard on April 5. The couple divorced in 1977.

1957: Releases self-titled debut album.

1958: Appears at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island.

1959: His upbeat call-and-response classic “What’d I Say” became his first million-seller. He leaves Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, signing a then unprecedented deal for an artist that included creative and financial control and ownership of his master tapes.

1960: The good times continue to roll with the start of one of the most fruitful periods in his career. Over the next two years, he would score hits with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia (On My Mind),” “Hit the Road Jack,” “Let the Good Times Roll” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

1961: Wins multiple Grammys at the third annual ceremony (over the years he would take home 12 awards). He was also arrested for the first time for drug possession, but the case was dismissed because officers lacked a warrant.

1962: Over the objections of his record company, he releases the revolutionary “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” the first recorded blend of country and soul music. That same year, the state of Georgia bans Mr. Charles “for life” when he refuses to play a whites-only dance.

1964: Busted at Boston’s Logan Airport on Oct. 31, where the arresting officers found heroin, marijuana and a syringe in his overcoat. He had previously been arrested for drug possession in Philadelphia and Indianapolis. He vows to kick the habit cold turkey, is fined, given a suspended sentence and placed on probation.

1967: Performs the theme song for the Oscar-winning film, “In the Heat of the Night,” a movie scored by old pal Quincy Jones.

1972: Records his trademark version of “America the Beautiful.”

1973: Leaves ABC-Paramount, taking his master discs and song rights with him, and launches his own label, Tangerine Records. He later formed a second label, Crossover.

1977: The Georgia state Legislature issues a formal apology to Mr. Charles for its 1962 ban; his “Georgia on My Mind” is named as the state’s official song.

1980: Appears as a music store owner in the film “The Blues Brothers,” with Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi.

1981: Mr. Charles, a staunch advocate in the civil rights movement, stirs controversy when he tours South Africa despite an international boycott due to its apartheid policy.

1986: Mr. Charles is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is one of five artists tapped for the ninth annual Kennedy Center Honors.

1990: Diet Pepsi taps Mr. Charles as a spokesman, releasing a series of ads with the legend interacting with a bevy of beauties while exclaiming, “You’ve got the right one, baby.”

1994: Receives his 12th Grammy Award in the best R&B Vocal Male Performer category for his rendition of “A Song for You.”

2003: Performs at the Birchmere in Alexandria, his final public performance.

2004: Dies of liver failure at age 73 on June 10. His final album, “Genius Loves Company” — a star-studded duets compilation featuring the likes of Norah Jones, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Gladys Knight — is released posthumously to critical and commercial success.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse

Source: “Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom,” by Peter Guralnick;, the Internet Movie Database, the Los Angeles Times, and

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