Ray Charles was born into poverty and at the age of 5 tragically witnessed the death of his younger brother who drowned in his mother’s laundry tub. Even at this age he loved music and started playing piano in a local cafe. Blinded by age 7, he attended St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, where he also studied music. After the death of his mother, at the age of 15 he left school to begin his professional career, successfully overcoming all physical, personal and racial obstacles to become one of the century’s great musicians. He combined gospel, rhythm and blues, and jazz, in his music. As composer, pianist, singer, and band leader, first inspired by Nat King Cole, he became an original and popular musical icon, recording such hits as Mess Around, I’ve Got a Woman, What’d I Say, Georgia on My Mind, Hit the Road Jack, and more. He received 13 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 1987, and in 1986 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also honored at the Kennedy Center.
Ray Charles appeals to children too, as seen in his CD for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom #6974. This popular children’s book by Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault, illus. by Lois Ehlert, includes a CD by Ray Charles. Lively rhymes, cheerful pictures and Ray Charles’s bluesy voice are perfectly mixed in this beloved alphabet chant. Hear audio samples here.
Kids and adults alike will also get a lift from Ray Charles’s upbeat 1978 performance of Disney’s Zip a Dee Do Dah.