Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004) was an American singer-songwriter, musician and composer known as Ray Charles.
Charles was a pioneer in the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records.
He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his Modern Sounds albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Frank Sinatra called Charles “the only true genius in show business”, although Charles downplayed this notion. He was blind from age seven. His best friend in music was South Carolina-born James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul”, and like Charles an active lifelong Republican.
The influences upon his music were mainly jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and country artists of the day such as Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, Charles Brown, and Louis Armstrong. His playing reflected influences from country blues, barrelhouse and stride piano styles.
Rolling Stone ranked Charles number ten on their list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” in 2004, and number two on their November 2008 list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”. In honoring Charles, Billy Joel noted: “This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley”.