A True Pioneer: Ray Charles and his Vast Influence on Music

Ray (2004)



Ray is a 2004 biographical film focusing on 30 years of the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. The independently produced film was directed by Taylor Hackford and stars Jamie Foxx in the title role. Raised in Northern Florida on a sharecropping plantation, Ray Charles Robinson went blind at the age of seven due to glaucoma. Shortly before going blind, Ray Charles witnessed his younger brother fall and drown in a big metal tub of water. Greatly influenced by his strong and independent mother, who insisted he make his own way in the world, Charles found his calling and his amazing talent behind a piano keyboard. While touring across the chitlin circuit, Ray Charles gained a large following and began to gain a reputation. However, it was with his ingenious introduction of the incorporation of gospel, country, jazz, and orchestral influences into his unparalleled style that earned Ray Charles worldwide fame.

Throughout the film, Ray Charles’ mother, Aretha, sparingly appears and plays an important role in the shaping of Ray Charles. She strictly instilled in him to never be intimidated by his blindness nor let anyone take advantage of his blindness. She was not well educated and had very little money, yet, she insisted that Charles attend the school for the blind, which she knew would help him on his way. Many years later, Ray Charles heads for Seattle after hearing about the club scene. The film portrays Charles discovering his sound in Seattle after he leaves his native Georgia. While in Seattle, he also has his first encounter with the Seattle teenager Quincy Jones. This, along with his friendship with a dwarf emcee named Oberon, who introduced him to marijuana, was one of the most crucial events in his life. One reason is because Quincy Jones is who gives Ray Charles his big break. The second, is because this introduction to marijuana is later the gateway into Ray Charles’ drug abuse which he deals with throughout most of his career.

In the beginning of his career, Ray Charles aspired to sound like one his biggest idols: Nat “King” Cole. However, after much criticism, Charles went back to his roots and decided to fuse his gospel foundations with his current style of rhythm and blues. Thus, creating and discovering a brand new sound that people immediately fell in love with. Essentially, Ray Charles invented what is now known as soul music and can be found in his early recordings such as, “I Got a Woman.” This record is the first record that skyrocketed him in stardom and brought him to national prominence. It was Charles’ first number one R&B hit on Atlantic Records.

Ray Charles reached the apex of his success at Atlantic with the spontaneously composed release of, “What’d I Say.” This song was a complex work of art that combined blues, jazz, Latin, and gospel music all in one. Charles got the idea for this song while performing in clubs and dances with his small band. The song was controversial and some radio stations even banned the song because of its sexually suggestive lyrics. However, the song became a crossover top ten pop record which was Charles’ first record to do so.

Ray Charles went on to record three more albums for the label including a jazz record, The Genius After Hours, a blues record, The Genius Sings the Blues, and a traditional pop/ big band record, The Genius of Ray Charles. The Genius of Ray Charles was his first top 40 album entry in which it peaked at Number 17. This was a landmark record in Ray’s career because this then lead to the end of his run with Atlantic and onto his huge contract deal with ABC-Paramount Records, abandoning his longtime relationship with his label-mates at Atlantic Records.







His contract with ABC-Paramount Records, which was apparently better than what Sinatra was getting, allowed for Charles to have much more liberty than he previously had. They offered him higher royalties than previously offered and eventual ownership of his masters, which is very rare at that time. During his Atlantic years, Ray Charles was very well known for his own creative and innovative compositions, however, after some time with his new label, Charles had virtually given up on writing original material and had begun to follow a different career path, showing off his range and versatility.

With his first hit single for ABC-Paramount, Charles received national acclaim and a Grammy Award for his most famous song, “Georgia on My Mind.” Charles also earned another Grammy and even more fame for the follow-up record, “Hit the Road Jack.” By late 1961, Ray Charles had grown from his small beginnings in Georgia to one of the biggest and most versatile musicians in the entire world. His small road ensemble suddenly transformed into a full-scale big band. This, of course, was due to his new contract, touring fees, and increasing royalties. Ray Charles eventually became one of the few black artists to crossover into mainstream pop with such a level of creative control.

This success, however, came to a brief standstill in November of 1961, as the police search the hotel of Ray Charles in Indianapolis, Indiana, during a concert tour that led to the discovery of heroin in his medicine cabinet. The case was eventually dropped, as the search lacked a proper warrant by the police, and Charles soon returned his focus on music and recording. He later records his 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, which helped to bring country into the mainstream of music. Shortly after, Ray Charles is arrested for possession of heroin and Charles’ career is once again halted. To avoid jail time Charles elects to go to rehab facility in where he eventually drops his habit of shooting up. While in rehab, he has a flashback of his mother that is the supposed catalyst in helping him fully recover.

The film concludes in 1979 with Charles off of drugs for good and receiving his most prestigious accomplishment. In this year, the state of Georgia officially makes, “Georgia On My Mind,” the official state song. The movie ends with Ray, Della, and their three grown sons receiving applause after Ray performs the song before a live audience.

By the end of his career, Ray Charles accomplished more things than anyone could have ever imagined, all while having to deal with the adversity of being blind and overcoming a serious drug addiction. However, his numerous Grammys and his millions and millions of records sold still does not add up to the more important contributions that he left for the world. Charles’ creation of a brand new genre fusing jazz, gospel, latin music, and rhythm and blues is a much further reaching accomplishment for the music world as a whole. Furthermore, Ray Charles open the door for more African American acts to become more mainstream, and, more specifically, blind African American acts such as Stevie Wonder. Ray Charles’ success is far reaching and touches a multitude of different horizons.

I chose to view the film, Ray, and do the blog on it because I find Ray Charles’ story fascinating. When I first viewed the film back in 2004, I was astonished by one, Jamie Foxx’s spot on portrayal of Ray Charles, and two, how much tragedy, drugs, sex, and violence Ray experienced in his life. I had no idea of how influential Ray Charles was until this film and I also gained much more of a respect for his catalog of music, especially after view his triumphs over tragedy. I believe this film gives a very fair view of his life and career. In fact, he worked closely with the production of this film before he passed away months before its release. The film shows the good and the bad of Ray Charles, therefore, I believe it gave a fair and balanced look. He approved of everything that was being portrayed so I do not believe there is any bias.


1. “Why Ray Charles Matters.” Blogcritics. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

2. “Ray Charles Biography at Black History Now.” Black Heritage Commemorative Society Ray Charles Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

3. “Ray Movie Review & Film Summary (2004) | Roger Ebert.” All Content. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

4. “Ray Charles – Biography, History, Bio, Life, Career, Facts, Awards.” Ray Charles – Biography, History, Bio, Life, Career, Facts, Awards. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.


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