Ray Charles, considered one of the greatest soul artists of all time, got his start in the Town of Greenville. Born September 23, 1930 in Albany, Ga., Charles moved to Greenville with his mother, Aretha Williams and adopted grandmother, Margaret Robinson, when he was an infant. The house that Ray Charles lived in until he was seven years old, still stands today in Greenville on SW Ray Charles Road. According to the historical marker located on the site of the home, “the modest wood frame vernacular house [Charles] grew up in was probably constructed in the 1920s. It had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Meals were prepared on a wood-burning stove. A fireplace in one of the four small rooms provided warmth and open windows and doors allowed breezes to cool the house.” Charles spent a lot of time in Greenville and received piano lessons at an early age from Wiley Pitman, owner of the Red Wing Cafe. Later, Charles and his family moved into a small house behind the cafe. At the age of seven, Charles became blind due to glaucoma and was sent to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, where he learned to write, read and even arrange music in braille. While there, he also learned how to play various instruments. Charles returned to his home for frequent visits until his mother died when he was 15. After moving to Seattle at the age of 16, Charles pursued music and performed with the McSon Trio in the 1940s. As time went on, Charles developed a unique style and eventually became a legendary performer. In 1949, he released his first single, “Confession Blues,” with the Maxin Trio. By 1953, Charles landed a deal with Atlantic Records. He celebrated his first R&B hit single with the label “Mess Around.” During his lifetime, Charles recorded more than 60 albums and performed more than 10,000 concerts. In the 1980s, Charles became one of the first people added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside of James Brown, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and Buddy Holly. In 2003, Charles cancelled his first tour in 53 years after having to have hip replacement surgery; the surgery was successful but Charles learned he had liver disease. He passed away in his Beverly Hills home on June 10, 2004 after a long battle with liver disease. Just two years after his death, Charles’ old Greenville home was scheduled for demolition due to its extreme deterioration. However, in 2006, the Town of Greenville purchased the structure to preserve the memory of Ray Charles and were able to restore the famous home thanks to a grant from the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation. Reconstruction was complete in 2008. Greenville also has a statue at US Hwy 221 in celebration of Charles’ legacy. The statue in Greenville arrived two years before Charles’ hometown of Albany, Ga. received one, thanks to current Vice Mayor of Greenville Elesta Pritchett. Pritchett grew up around Charles. After his death, Pritchett knew she had to do something to honor Charles and make people aware that he spent his childhood in Greenville; together, the state of Florida and the Town of Greenville worked together to put the statue where it stands today. The sculpting team of Bradley Cooley and Brad Cooley, Jr. in Lamont, Fl. offered to create a Ray Charles statue for free. It was unveiled in Greenville’s park on February 18, 2006. These historical sights in Greenville are definitely worth traveling to, painting a rich history for the “Father of Soul.” To view visitor snapshots taken at the Ray Charles childhood home, visit the Town of Greenville’s website at www.mygreenvillefl.com.
Ray Charles childhood home