Today, September 23, the day of the incomparable Ray Charles’ birth 84 years ago, the above quote still resonates with me as powerfully as it did when I first heard them at the opening of The Ray Charles Memorial Library in 2010.
I had always been a fan of Charles’ music. Who hasn’t felt the hair on the back of their neck stand up when the first strains of “Georgia on my Mind” begin to play? Or the pain and passion that imbues his haunting rendition of “America the Beautiful“? Listening to him sing the words, one understands that America can be ugly and racist — but that it is ours. Who doesn’t smile at the playful and sultry back and forth between he and Betty Carter on “Baby It’s Cold Outside”? The list goes on and on, but the heart of each song lies in the maestro himself and that it is what I have grown to appreciate.
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Completely blind by the age of 7, not long after he witnessed the drowning death of his younger brother, Charles would grow to be a pioneer in the genre of soul music. His risky, solely authentic blend of R&B and gospel shocked and titillated fans around the world and “Rolling Stone” ranked him as No. 10 on their list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” in 2004, the year of his death.
Though he would battle drug abuse in his lifetime, his legacy of music, resilience, philanthropy, humor and wisdom serve as testaments to his strength and his unwavering belief that we’re “supposed to believe we’re here for a purpose.”
He found his purpose and the world is greater for it.
So today, we pay tribute to, in the words of the incomparable B.B. King, our “blind, black, Beethoven.” No matter how long the list of “the great ones” become, the road will always lead back to you.
Share your favorite Ray Charles’ song with us!