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19 August 2010

Ray Charles Is In Town - Chronology 1930 - 1946

23 September 1930
Ray Charles Robinson born in Albany Georgia. Illegitimate son of Aretha (Retha) Williams and Baily Robertson. 
After a few months mother and kid move back to Greenville, FA (actually Jellyroll, half a mile outside Greenville), Retha's hometown.

Before and after 2004 restauration.
George, his brother is born.

First piano lessons from Wiley Pitman, a local boogie-woogie pianist. The first tune he learned was Texas Boogie (also cf. this). 
Soaks up gospel music at the Shiloh Baptist Church and rural blues from musicians including Tampa Red.
The nickname that sticks is RC.

George drowns in washtub.
Ray begins losing his sight from an unknown ailment, probably glaucoma.

23 October 1937
Accepted as charity student at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in Saint Augustine (South Campus, Colored Department).
 Learns Braille and typewriting, starts formal piano lessons. 
Learns to write music in Braille. 
Learns to play clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet and organ.

Right eye removed in operation; last eyesight gone.

Begins playing piano for afternoon tea parties and ladies' club socials.

Starts writing music for the institution's orchestra. Read this.

Incidentally plays piano - live - on WFOY Radio in Saint Augustine. Read this.
Back in Greenville during a vacation he is heard playing Nat King Cole's I Just Can't See For Lookin'.

This photo has been used in several documentaries (this is a still from The Genius of Soul), but I don't know if it's authentic. If the woman is Aretha, Ray's mother, the picture is from circa 1944.
Microfilm copy from the 1945 Florida/Greenville census, mentioning Ray (R.C.) Robinson, aged 19 [sic!] and his mother, Reatha (Aretha) Williams.
Ray's mother dies.

5 October 1945
Expelled from school: "Sent home […]. Unsatisfactory pupil."
Does not go home, but to Jacksonville, to earn a living as a musician. 
Jamming with pro musicians; plays where he can as sideman or solo act.

Irregular gigs with Alvin Downing's ensemble, at Manuel's Tap Room.
Gigs with Henry Washington's band. 

Autumn 1946
 On a Central Florida tour with Tiny York's band. 
Stays in Orlando.
Gets word that his father has died.
Occasional gigs with Joe Anderson at Sunshine Club, and with Acie Price at Bowsman.

[Formative years]
Also see this and this.

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