message from Ray
Ray Charles remembered as best-known grad of St. Augustine
school- The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind joined fans
around the nation Thursday mourning the loss of music artist
Ray Charles, the school's most famous graduate. alumnus, blind
singer and piano player Ray Charles. "He was a music giant"He
was a legend and our students were proud to be associated
with him," said Kathy Gillespie, a spokeswoman for the school.
Charles died Thursday at age 73 at his home in Beverly Hills,
Calif. Charles attended the school from the age of 7 until
he was 15, beginning in the late 1930s, she said. At the school,
he learned to read and write music in Braille. "Learning to
read music in Braille and play by ear helped me develop a
damn good memory," Charles said. "I can sit at my desk and
write a whole arrangement in my head and never touch the piano."
Charles also worked as an announcer in a St. Augustine radio
station WFOY, walking two blocks to go to work, she said.
After leaving school, "he had a continuing relationship with
the school," where students study his music and his career,
Gillespie said. In 1970, Gillespie said Charles played a concert
in Ocala to benefit the school's building fund. Although he
was born in Georgia, his family moved to Greenville, Fla.,
about 40 miles east of Tallahassee, when he was an infant.
In 1992, Charles was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall
of Fame, joining Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and
John D. McDonald. In April 1990, he received an honorary doctorate
of fine arts from the University of South Florida in Tampa.
In February 1991, he returned to USF for a benefit concert
at the Sun Dome with the USF Community Gospel Choir. Proceeds
from the concert were divided between the College of Fine
Arts Music Scholarship Fund and Charles' foundation. ON THE
NET Florida School for the Deaf and Blind: www.fsdb.k12.fl.us/
Ray Charles Web Site: www.raycharles.com
-Associated Press ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla.
H.E.A.R. Honors Ray Charles
JRay Charles, singer, pianist, saxophonist, composer, and
band leader, is a towering figure in popular music. He not
only defined modern soul music but also helped escape country
music and influenced dozens of rock singers. He performs with
a gospel fervor that brings to his concerts the atmosphere
of a revival meeting. He commands a huge and widely diversified
audience ranging from adolescents to foreign jazz connoisseurs
and critics, primarily because he started in rhythm and blues,
moved on into jazz, and then entered popular music. He has
been successful with ballads, blues, gospel music, rock 'n'
roll, and Broadway show tunes and still remains true to a
tradition rooted in the blues, spirituals, and Baptist gospel
music of the Deep South.
When Charles was a small child, his family moved to Greenville,
FL, where at the age of five, he started to go blind as a
result of glaucoma. He lost his sight completely within two
years and was placed in the St. Augustine (FL) School for
Blind, a state institution where he learned to read in Braille,
to play the piano and clarinet and to memorize music. He discovered
mathematics and its correlation to music and learned to compose
and arrange music in his head. From St. Augustine's he went
on to working with "traveling hillbilly bands" and rhythm
and blues combinations throughout the South as pianist, clarinetist,
and saxophonist. He also taught himself to arrange and compose
music, both in Braille and by singing the parts to a musician
who would write them down. Moving to the west coast "around
1950," Charles worked as a singer-pianist-arranger and began
to absorb the influences that eventually formed the basis
of his own uninhibited style
I In 1954, he formed his own band and put his sound on record.
At what is now considered to be an "historic" recording session,
he merged gospel with blues in a secular version of the old
gospel tune "My Jesus Is All the World to Me." His recording
of "I Got a Woman" subsequently caught on, and his first really
big hit record, "Georgia on My Mind" in 1959, won a Grammy
Award. Within two years, John S. Wilson, jazz critic of the
New York Times, reported that "almost every aspect of non-classical"
music was being "blanketed" by "the varied talents of a man
named Ray Charles." He cited him as a "pianist of exceptional
range who can move skillfully from basic, root blues to a
modern linear style." He also noted that the small Ray Charles
band had developed intro "one of the best jazz groups played
today" and that Charles' voice "worn through years of whooping
and hollering in his blues performances, shows a rough, leathery
quality in his relaxed approach."
His numerous subsequent hit recordings include "Hit the
Road, Jack," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Crying Time" and
"Living for the City," all of which won Grammy Awards. His
albums were also hits: "Genius of Ray Charles," also a Grammy
winner, "Genius Plus Soul Equals Jazz" and "Modern Sounds
in Country and Western Music" are among them. Other major
hits include "Busted," "Hard Times," "Ruby," "The Right Time,"
"Let the Good Times Roll," "What'd I Say?" and "Hallelujah
I Love Her So." Many of the tunes he records and most of those
he plays before live audiences are numbers that he has composed.
Charles, also an internationally famous concert performer,
has appeared on stages ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Grand
Ole Opry and in countries from those of Scandinavia to England,
Italy, Spain, and India. He is noted for having been the first
musician to break the previously impenetrable barriers among
soul, jazz, gospel, and pop.
In 1964, he completed an around-the-would tour that included
90 concerts in nine weeks, playing to some 500,000 spectators
from Japan to Algeria. In the autumn of 1961, Charles made
history in Memphis, TN, when for the first time an integrated
audience attended his performance at the municipally owned
and operated city auditorium. He also has to his credit such
films as "Blues Brothers" and a variety of television appearances,
including "Country Comes Home," "Ray Charles--A Man and His
Soul," "A 40th Anniversary Celebration," and "A Tribute to
Martin Luther King, Jr.--A Celebration of His Life." "His
niche is difficult to define," noted Thomas Thompson in his
1966 profile of Charles in Life magazine. "The best blues
singer around? Of course, but don't stop there. He is also
an unparalleled singer of jazz, of gospel, of ballads, even
unlikely enough, of country and western. He has drawn from
each of these musical streams and made a river which he alone