Born in Albany, Georgia, on September 23, 1930, Charles was raised in Greenville, Florida, where he made the acquaintance of a piano-playing neighbor. As a youngster, Charles started with him at his small store-cum-juke joint while digesting the blues, boogie-woogie and big-band swing records on his jukebox. At age six, he contracted glaucoma, which eventually left him blind. Charles studied composition and mastered a variety of instruments, piano and saxophone principal among them, during nine years spent at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind. Thereafter, he played around Florida in a variety of bands and then headed for the West Coast, where he led a jazz-blues trio that performed in the polished style of Nat “King” Cole and Charles Brow.
Charles was a major influence on popular black music during his early years, he influenced both white musicians and audiences. And although he had been convicted of using drugs in the 1950s, he lived to see the day when he was so acceptable to mainstream Americans that he became virtually the chief image for promoting Pepsi-Cola and was invited to perform at many national patriotic and political events. In 2001, his soulful rendering of "America The Beautiful" was played throughout Major League ballparks during the 7th inning stretch when games resumed after 9/11. Still performing into his seventies, in 2002 he released the album Thanks For Bringing Love Around.
In 2004 Charles died of acute liver disease at his California home. He was 73. His final album, Genius Loves Company, was released posthumously in August 2004 and featured 12 duets with such artists as B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Elton John. The CD won Grammy awards for both album and record of year. That year the award-winning biopic Ray was released starring Jamie Foxx as the music legend.
Source: raycharles.com / rockhall.com