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This Day in Georgia History

September 23, 1930

Ray Charles Born

To view an image of Ray Charles, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

Singer Ray C. Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia. When he was about six months old, his family moved to Greenville, Florida. His father left, leaving the family to struggle. Robinson later recalled in his autobiography that they were so poor that there was “Nothin’ below us, ‘cept the ground.” About age 5, he started losing his sight from glaucoma. Nevertheless, he loved music - from gospel at the Baptist Church he attended to country from listening to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. Later, at a state school for the deaf and blind in St. Augustine, he was exposed to classical music. At age 15, Robinson’s mother died, leaving him alone in the world. He developed his musical talents, learning to play piano, organ, and several other instruments. He began to play clubs in Florida and saved enough money to get as far away from Florida as he could - which was Seattle, Washington. Here, he won a talent contest and his career was underway. At this point, he decided to change his name so he wouldn’t be confused with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson - so, Ray Charles stopped using his last name. In 1949, he signed a recording contract - and the rest is history. His many hits are too numerous to list here, but some of the best-known are “What’d I Say, ” “I’ve Got a Woman,” “Hit the Road Jack,” and of course the one forever associated with his birth state, “Georgia on My Mind.”