Albany, Georgia native, Ray Charles, dubbed the The Genius, was born September 23, 1930 as Ray Charles Robinson in a section of Albany, Georgia then known as "Flower City" (a pecan grove on Highway 300) to Bailey Robinson, a mechanic/handyman and Aretha Robinson, a sawmill laborer, the entertainer grew up in Gainesville, Florida.
At the age of seven, he lost his eyesight to glaucoma. He was orphaned at age 15. The Robinson Family plot is located in the St. Paul Baptist Church cemetery.
Perservering through the wisdom, "Use what you have", instilled in him by his mother, Ray Charles went on to become one of the most profound performes of his time, applying his own style to blues, jazz and big band as a vocalist, pianist and saxophonist.
His success is reflected in his 40 Top Hits, his 12 Grammy Awards, Kennedy Center Honor and becoming one of the first inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ray Charles renewed his ties to Albany, Georgia through the efforts of John White, a former Albany representative in Georgia's House of Representatives. In 1979, Rep. White co-authored state legislation which resulted in Charles' 1960 hit, "Georgia On My Mind" becoming the state's anthem. Also in 1979, Rep. White arranged a Ray Charles homecoming concet in Albany at which Albany native and musician, Willie Moody, then seven years old and blind from birth, opened the concert for the famed musician. Moody, now 33 years old, has become a professional musician, having performed with Kenny Rogers and B. B. King. Ray Charles returned to Albany in the later 1980s for a joint concert at the Albany James H. Gray, Sr. Civic Center with another famous entertainer and Albany Native, Ray Stevens and again in 1991 for the re-opening of the Albany Municipal Audiorium. In recent years, Rep. White has been in negotiations with Ray Charles for the establishment of a commemorative museum in Albany at the singer's birthplace. Current plans for the museum are unsure.
In 2001, Ray Charles donated $1,000,000.00 to Albany State University. In May 2002, he returned to Albany as the university's Commencement Speaker and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy. Also during the commencement exercises, Ray Charles donated an additional $2,000,000.00 to the university and became the school's largest benefactor in its 100-year history. A new Fine Arts Building on the campus of Albany State University will be named for Ray Charles. At his request, the theatre in the new building willl be named for his mother, Aretha Robinson.