Dance across a sidewalk of piano keys as you are serenaded by some of Ray Charles musical classics in Albany, Georgia. It was in this city in 1930 that the popular musician was born. Today a fountain and statue stand in his honor recognizing his achievements in the R&B music world.
About Ray Charles
Ray Charles was born in Albany, Georgia on September 23, 1930 to Bailey Robinson and Areatha Williams. His father Bailey, who was married, had been having an affair with Areatha and after Ray was born she moved him back to her hometown of Greenville, Florida. It was a small town but near her family where they could have a life of their own. Ray’s father remained in Albany and was in and out of his life for a few of his earliest years. Less than a year later his mother had another son named George by a different father.
His musical interest was sparked by a local man by the name of Wylie Pittman who played boogie music. It was Pittman who began to teach Ray Charles to play the piano starting at the age of three. For some time, Areatha, Ray and George lived at Wiley’s Red Wing Cafe where he aided in caring for the children due to their mothers poor health.
When George was four years old, he fell into a laundry tub and drowned, devastating the family and community. Unfortunately more tragedy struck as Ray was slowly beginning to lose his eyesight due to glaucoma. By the time he was seven he was permanently blind. Areatha struggled to make a living to support her child and through grief in the loss of George and her own illnesses she did the best to give him an opportunity in life. His mother could see her sons talent despite his disability and managed to arrange for him to move to St. Augustine in 1937 to attend Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.
While at the school, young Ray Charles learned to read Braille music and other classical pieces. This influence further motivated his musical dreams. He remained at the school until 1945 when his mother passed away. After her funeral he decided not to return to school devastated by the tragedies of losing his eyesight and most of all his brother and mother.
Unsure of where his life should take him, Ray Charles moved at the age of fourteen to live with a friend of the family in Jacksonville where he began playing at the a theater for $4 a night. Even though he was active in a musicians union, he still did not earn enough gigs and decided to try his luck in Orlando and later in 1947, Tampa where there were larger musical markets. He recorded his first songs in Miami and was on a path to success. In 1950, he moved to Los Angeles opening the doors to his talent.
By 1959, Ray Charles had recorded many songs and even landed a few on Billboard’s rankings. With “What’d I Say” earning him #1 on the Billboard R&B chart. From there his career was a success, launching him into fame and fortune.
Some of Ray Charles most notable achievements include his version of “Georgia On My Mind” being accepted as the states official song. He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and won 17 Grammy’s along with 37 nominations throughout his career.
The Ray Charles Plaza was opened in Albany, Georgia in 2007, just three years after his death as a memorial to honor his musical achievements. Today visitors can explore the park that lies on the bank of the Flint River in downtown.
The plaza is free to visit and to see the exact location please visit the map below.
Thanks for reading and as always, keep on truckin’!