How Did Late Singer Ray Charles Go Blind?

Ray Charles blind
September 23, 2020 - 12:09 / Rachel Johnson

Ray Charles' blindness would not stop him from achieving his dreams. Overcoming adversity, the late singer-songwriter is an inspiration to all and will forever be remembered for his contributions to soul music! Here is the story behind how the legendary Ray Charles went blind.

Ray Charles' blindness and other misfortunes, including the loss of his younger brother George, would shadow his early childhood. However, while the singer-songwriter had a difficult childhood, he wouldn't let the obstacles stop him from pursuing his musical passion.

Born September 23, 1930, Ray Charles showed musical interest by the age of three. Noticing the young boy's interest, Red Wing Cafe owner, Wylie Pitman, began to teach Ray how to play the piano. At this point, Ray Charles still had his eyesight.  

Ray Charles' Blindness

Ray Charles in LA 1965

Ray Charles' blindness would start around the age of four and progressively worsen until he lost all eyesight by the age of seven. The loss was caused by eye disease, glaucoma. His mother, destitute and devastated after the drowning of her younger son George and Ray's misfortune, was determined against all odds to get her older son a proper education.

Attending the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Ray Charles continued to build up his aptitude for music and was taught how to play braille music by his patient teacher. Ray would learn to play classical greats like Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach until he was fourteen. After the death of his mother, Ray would suffer unspeakable pain and drop out of school. 

Ray Charles Later Years

Despite the adversities of his childhood, Ray Charles would overcome the hardships and become a successful soul musician in his adult years. An early pioneer of soul in the 1950s, Ray also helped to integrate country music, pop, and rhythm and blues in the 1960s.

Influenced heavily by jazz singer and pianist, Nat King Cole, some of Ray's most well-known hits include:

  • "Georgia On My Mind"
  • "Hit the Road Jack"
  • "I Can't Stop Loving You"
  • "Busted"
  • and his cover of Buck Owens "Crying Time".

Ray Charles would also pave the way for other African-American artists, becoming the first to be given artistic control by a major record company and headlining popular venues like the Apollo Theater and Carnegie Hall. 

Ray Charles Death

Ray Charles attends the 2004 35th Annual NAACP Image Awards 

Despite his success, over the years Ray Charles would struggle with drug addiction and the usage would ultimately lead to liver failure in 2004 following a hip replacement surgery. Still quite young at 73, fans were saddened to hear of the musician's passing and his death was mourned around the world.  

Ranked number two on the Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, some critics have remarked that Ray Charles was even more important to music than Elvis Presley. Charles\, who would have been 90 this year, legacy will live on forever, and Ray Charles' strength, even when blind, is an inspiration for all!