Biography of Singer Ray Charles Part 3

About the famous blues and soul singer Ray Charles, biography and history of the performer.

GALLERY OF PROMINENT PERFORMING AND CREATIVE ARTISTS

RAY CHARLES (b. 1930)

Not all of Charles's misery was burned up by his creative pursuits or his aching vocals. Moody, nervous, and unpredictable, he would sometimes show up as much as four hours late for a performance--if he showed up at all. His personal problems were complicated by drugs. In 1955 and 1961 he was arrested for possession and use of heroin. "The daily grind gets to be too much," he said. "A fellow who lives in the dark has to do something." In 1962 a close friend predicted that the singer would be dead within three years. Charles was arrested again in 1964, that time for possession of marijuana. After a well-publicized California heroin bust in 1965, he retired from performing for a year, determined to kick the habit. Apparently he did.

Although Charles is willing to talk in depth about his music and his battle with narcotics, he quickly steers interviewers away from his family life. When pressed, he says, "Just say that I am an extremely happily married man and proud of it." Charles has a daughter from a brief marriage in Seattle. He and his present wife, Della Beatrice Antwine, a former gospel singer, have three sons. During 25 years of marriage Della has learned to accept the fact that her husband is on the road most of the year.

Since Ray Charles has always been unwilling to accept limitations--physical, racial, or musical--he has little patience when they are imposed on others. In 1961, before civil rights became a full-fledged national issue, he refused to play a sold-out concert in Memphis, Tenn., when he learned that the audience would be racially segregated. When the management integrated the audience, Charles gave the concert.

Unlike some performers, Ray Charles has never overtly "committed" himself to social causes. He doesn't need to. It is nearly impossible to listen to his music without feeling empathy for the luckless and stomped-upon people of the world. There is more than a little irony in the fact that his native Georgia adopted Charles's version of "Georgia on My Mind" as its state song.

Today, in his 50s, Ray Charles shows no sign of slowing down. Besides heading up his own record company, he still goes on the road to play concerts. He appeared in a 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers, and astounded younger fellow performers with a walloping version of the old rock-and-roll song "Shake a Tail Feather." Summing up his incredible life, he says: "Every experience I've had--good and bad--has taught me something. I was born a poor boy in the South, I'm black, I'm blind, I once fooled around with drugs, but all of it was like going to school--and I've tried to be a good student. I don't regret a damn thing."

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