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12 June 2010

RC Robinson's Early Years - On WFOY Radio (1945 - 1946)

When RC (as he was nicknamed at the time) attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, he performed on WFOY radio in St. Augustine ('the oldest station in the United States' oldest city'), possibly already in 1944, almost surely in 1945 and 1946.
He became the school's premier musician. On Fridays, the South Campus Literary Society held assemblies where Charles would play piano and sing popular songs. On Halloween and Washington's birthday, the Colored Department of the school had socials where Charles would play. It was here that he established RC Robinson and the Shop Boys and sang his own arrangement of Jingle Bell Boogie.
This photo has been used in several documentaries (this is a still
The Genius of Soul), but I don't know if it's authentic.
 If the woman is Aretha, Ray's mother, the picture must be from circa 1944.
Henry and Alice Johnson, who owned a store in the Frenchtown section of Tallahassee, took Charles in. He worked the register in the Bryants' store under the direction of Lucille Bryant, their daughter. He loved Tallahassee and often used the drug store delivery boy's motorbike to run up and down hills using the exhaust sound of a friend's bike to guide him. Charles found Tallahassee musically exciting too, and he sat in with the Florida A&M University student band. He played with Henry Washington, Joe Ellison, Charley Brantley,  the Adderley brothers, Nat and Cannonball, and began playing gigs with Lawyer Smith and his Band in 1943 at the Red Bird Club and DeLuxe Clubs in Frenchtown, and at roadhouses around Tallahassee, as well as at the Governor's Ball.
After his mother died in 1945, Charles didn't return to school. He lived in Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his mother. For over a year, he played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. Then he moved to Orlando, and later Tampa, where he played with a southern band called The Florida Playboys. This is where he began his habit of always wearing sunglasses that were made by designer Billy Stickles [at least, that's how one of the the stories about his first shades goes; BS].

He decided to leave Florida for Seattle in 1947, forming the McSon trio (after guitarist, Gosady McGee, and Robinson), and soon started recording for the Down Beat label as the Maxim Trio with McKee and bassist Milton Garrett, achieving his first hit with Confession Blues in 1949. He joined Swing Time Records and under his own name (Ray Charles, to avoid being confused with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson) recorded two more hits, Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand in 1951 and Kissa Me Baby in 1952. The following year, Ahmet Ertegun bought the Swing Time contract, and signed him to Atlantic Records.
Main source: here.

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