What Georgian doesn't feel a tinge of pride every time we hear Ray Charles sing “Georgia on my Mind”? It's Georgia's official state song, and maybe the reason it sounds especially soulful is that Charles was singing about home.
Born in Albany, Ray Charles Robinson later changed his name to avoid confusion with boxer “Sugar” Ray Robinson. Blinded at age five by glaucoma, Charles left school at 15 to pursue a singing career and in so doing created a brand new style of music that blended gospel, rhythm and blues, and jazz.
His first big hit was 1954's "I got a Woman," an immediate crossover success. Charles' personal life was often in turmoil—divorces, drug addiction, paternity suits—but the hits kept coming, including "Hit the Road Jack" and "What'd I Say." Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on my Mind," recorded in 1960, became his signature song.
Before his death in 2004, Charles had received every honor that his profession and his country could bestow. Ray Charles Square in Albany honors the son of the sharecropper born there on September 23, 1930, Today in Georgia History.
Today in Georgia History is a joint collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting.