When you talk about Soul Music, Ray Charles was one artiste that contributed meaningfully to the development of that genre of music. Singers like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson also did a great deal to pioneer this form of music but Charles created a unique style we can all relate to today. Against the contribution of other artistes to soul music, Charles went further to define a new genre of black pop by merging the R&B’s style of music played in the ’50s with gospel-powered vocals, introducing flavours from contemporary jazz, and blues.

Charles carved out a unique style that was very emotional, and easily likeable. The uniqueness of his style was easily identified by any 20th-century performer, compared with the likes of Elvis and Billie Holiday. He was a superb keyboard player and a good band leader. Though he recorded a few classics after the mid-60s and performed until the year before his demise. The uniqueness of Ray Charles is something every artiste should seek to study. Today people now record his style of music. Thanks to him and his likes for investing so much time in carving out a genre of music we all refer today as “Soul Music”. A closer study of his biography revealed the following about him:

1. He focused on his dreams

Charles went blind at the age of six due to glaucoma. He also lost his parents when he was still a teenager. These challenges were enough excuses to keep him away from his childhood dream of becoming a music star. But Charles did not allow all that to deter him. Some of his friends made a mock of him whenever he tries to sing. But despite all, he stayed strong and was always assisted to the studio for his recording sessions.

Charles never gave up; instead, he continued to push towards his career. He then used his savings to move to Seattle in 1947. He had a habit of trying to create a unique style.

During the late ’40s, Charles recorded a smooth Pop/R&B style. This was his first top ten R&B hit in 1951 with the song “Baby, let me Hold Your Hand.

Ray Charles Ray Charles

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As an artiste, don’t give up irrespective of what is playing to your disadvantage. This is why I found the musings of Leah LaBelle, a Canadian Musician to be true. She quotes: “Work hard for what you want because it won’t come to you without a fight. You have to be strong and courageous and know that you can do anything you put your mind to. If somebody puts you down or criticises you, just keep on believing in yourself and turn it into something positive.”

2. Charles leveraged on past successes.

In the early ’50s, Charles went to New Orleans to work with Guitar Slim. It was at Atlantic Records that Charles found his voice, expression and rhythm. Charles easily recognised talents, he helped R&B star Ruth Brown to set-up a band. As a strategy, he leveraged on the gains of recent years to project his songs and image with “I Got a Woman,” a number-two R&B hit in 1955.  Artistes who have released hit singles in the past can leverage on it to promote their image and recent songs. To do this, they must be consistent with their style.

Listen to: “I got a woman”

3. He was consistent with his style

In the 50’s there was nothing like soul music, which was the style, Charles sang. Despite that, he ran off a series of R&B hits that, although they weren’t called “soul” at the time, did a lot to pave the way for soul by presenting a form of R&B that was sophisticated without sacrificing any emotional grit. Charles ran this series with songs like: “This Little Girl of Mine,” “Drown in My Own Tears,” “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “Lonely Avenue,” and “The Right Time” were all big hits.

Today, it’s hard to find artistes stick to a style of music. They will record R&B as their first song; tomorrow they will record another style of music. These artistes leave their listeners confused.

4.  Charles wanted artistic control

Charles finally left Atlantic for ABC record label. And one of the chief attractions of the ABC deal for Charles was a much greater degree of artistic control of his recordings. He put it to good use on early-’60s hits like “Unchain My Heart” and “Hit the Road Jack,” which solidified his pop stardom with only a modicum of polish attached to the R&B he had perfected at Atlantic.  There is a place for having control over your recordings as an artiste. This comes to play when you have a label that is always changing your unique style for something else in the name of trying to make more album sales. This was more liberty for Ray Charles, In 1962, he surprised the pop world by turning his attention to country & western music, topping the charts with the “I Can’t Stop Loving You” single, and making a hugely popular album (in an era in which R&B/soul LPs rarely scored high on the charts) with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

He was popular throughout the mid-’60s, scoring big hits like “Busted,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Take These Chains From My Heart,” and “Crying Time,” although his momentum was slowed by a 1965 bust for heroin.

Charles got to the pick of his career, had his own share of challenges and faced the consequences for some of his decisions. In whatever way we look at his successes and failures, blind Charles is still viewed as an American institution, after all, and his vocal powers barely diminished over his half-century career.

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