is Doug Johnson with People In America in VOA Special English.
week, we began the story of a blind musician who had a huge influence on
American popular music. He was famous
for his recordings of jazz, rock-and-roll, blues and country music. His name was Ray Charles Robinson. But the world knew him better as Ray
(MUSIC: "Let''s Go Get Stoned")
of that song is "Let's Go Get Stoned."
It is an example of Ray Charles' own kind of music—his own sound. He worked hard for several years to create
that sound. No one ever tried it
before. He mixed black church music,
blues and rock-and-roll. The sound was
extremely successful. In the nineteen
fifties, his records began to sell millions of copies.
same time, Ray Charles recorded jazz music.
Those records sold well, too.
Critics said they were new and exciting. Listen to his jazz song, "Sweet Sixteen Bars."
Charles became famous because he could play blues, rock and jazz. He also liked other kinds of music. He told record company officials that he
wanted to record an album of country-and-western music.
president of the record company told him it would be a mistake. He said Ray's fans would not buy the
album. Charles disagreed. He said he believed he would gain many new
fans to replace the few he might lose.
He produced the album and it was an immediate success.
album was called "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music." Many of the songs were major hits. One of the most popular was "I Can't Stop
Loving You." It is a
country-and-western song with Ray Charles' sound of blues and black church
Charles lived in a world of sound. For
six months each year he traveled with his orchestra, performing in
theaters. For the other six months, he
worked in his recording studio in Los Angles, California. He did much of the recording work to produce
his own albums.
Charles would often say that sound and music were his life's blood. In fact, he said many times that he would
not trade his musical ability for the ability to see again.
begin to understand what sound meant to Ray Charles when you learn that he
helped create and support the Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders. This organization helps people deal with the
loss of their hearing.
might think Ray Charles would have given his time and money to help the
blind. He did not. He once said: "Being blind is my
handicap. But ears are my opportunity." He said losing his hearing would have ended
Charles lived a long life that included his share of problems. There was a time when he used illegal
drugs. He was married and divorced
several times. Yet the Ray Charles
sound, and his success, continued.
received twelve Grammy Awards from the recording industry. He was one of the first musicians to be
elected to the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. Several universities honored
him. So did the French and American
governments. His home state of Georgia
made his recording of "Georgia on My Mind" the official state song.
years ago, Ray Charles was asked to sing at a political convention. He performed the song "America the
Beautiful." Many people thought his
recording was the best ever made.
Charles always said he owed most of his success to his mother. He said when he was a boy, she taught him a
valuable lesson. She told him: "You can
do anything you want to do. You cannot
use your eyes. But you can work hard
and use your brain."
Charles died June tenth, two thousand four at the age of seventy-three. Music experts say he did more than anyone in
the twentieth century to change American popular music.
than one hundred years ago, Alice Cary wrote a poem that could have been
written for Ray Charles. She wrote:
is full of whispered song, --
blindness is my sight;
shadows that I feared so long
of life and light.
(MUSIC: "Seven Spanish Angels")
program was written by Paul Thompson.
It was produced by Lawan Davis.
This is Doug Johnson.
is Faith Lapidus. Join us again next
week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program in VOA Special English.