Charles Robinson, was born in Albany, Georgia to Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman, and Aretha Williams, who stacked boards in a sawmill; the two were never married. The family moved to Greenville, Florida, when Ray was an infant. Bailey had two more families, leaving Aretha to raise the family. When Charles was five, he witnessed his younger brother, George, drown in his portable laundry tub.
When he was six, Charles began to go blind, becoming totally blind by the age of seven. Charles never knew exactly why he lost his sight, though there are sources which suggest Ray’s blindness was due to glaucoma. He attended school at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida. He also learned how to write music and play various musical instruments. While he was there, his mother died. His father died two years later.
After he left school, Charles began working as a musician in several bands that played in various styles, including jazz and, in Tampa “with a hillbilly band called The Florida Playboys.”
Charles moved to Seattle in 1947 or 1948. He soon started recording, first for the label Swingtime Records, achieving his first hit with “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand” in 1951, then signed with Ahmet Ertegün at Atlantic Records a year later. When he entered show business, his name was shortened to Ray Charles to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.