Ray Charles

Who Mentored Ray Charles?

Interview Watch the video of Ray Charles.

The late Ray Charles had the distinction of being both a national treasure and an international phenomenon. Music was Ray Charles’ single driving force, and it catapulted a poor, black, blind, orphaned teenager from there to here. Rhythm & blues (or “race music” as it had been called) became universally respectable through his efforts. Jazz found a mainstream audience it had never previously enjoyed. And country & western music began to chart an unexpected course to general acceptance, then worldwide popularity. Along the way Ray Charles was instrumental in the invention of rock & roll.

Ray Charles talks about Quincy Jones:

It’s so hard to describe Quincy, because you know, we’re so close. He was just an energetic young kid and he really loved music. He wanted to learn how to write, and of course, I knew how to write, and that drew us together–because I could help him out and show him some things about how to compose.

I would work at night from 1:00 to 5:00 in the morning, get home at 6:00 a.m., and Quincy would wake me up at 9:00 a.m. and say, “Hey man, show me how to write…”

I said, “Man, do you know what time it is?”

He said, “I don’t care man.”

I mean, I loved him so much I’d get up out of bed–sleep just didn’t matter anymore because it was him. You could tell that he wanted to learn, he wanted to know. And because I was able to show him some things, that made me happy, that’s what stirred my heart. I could help this kid.

I love Quincy very much. If I got a dime, he got a nickel, I mean, that’s just the way it is.

Ray Charles talks about his mentor:

Wiley Pittman, he was a cat. I mean, if it hadn’t been for him, I don’t think I’d be a musician today. We lived next door to him. He had a little café, a general store, and he had a piano in there. Every afternoon around 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., he’d start to practice. I was 3 years old and–I don’t know why I loved him, I can’t explain that–but any time he’d start to practicing and playing that boogie woogie–I loved that boogie woogie sound–I would stop playing as a child, I didn’t care who was out there in the yard, my buddies, or whoever, I would leave them, and go inside and sit by him and listen to him play.

From time to time, I’d start hittin’ the keys with my whole fists and finally he would say to me, “Look kid, you don’t hit the keys with your whole fist like this (demonstrates), if you like music so much,” and he knew how much I liked music because I’d stop everything I was doing and listen to him.

So he started to teach me how to play little melodies with one finger. And, of course, I realize today that he could’ve said, “Kid, get away from me, can’t you see I’m practicing?”

But he didn’t. He took the time. Somehow he knew in his heart, this kid loves music so much, I’m going to do whatever I can to help him learn how to play.

Ray Charles talks about his mom:

I always remember my mom. She was not what you’d call a well-educated woman. She only went to about the 4th or 5th grade because she had to work in the corn fields and the cotton fields, but she was a great psychologist–there’s no other way to explain it. She knew things that I felt that no one else seemed to realize about me.

As her child, she wanted me to be as normal, as regular as any other child. Which means she made me do everything that other kids do. I had to wash clothes, I had to learn how to do this, I had to clean the house, the things that other kids do. I had to cut wood with an axe…

I’ll always remember my mom was crying one day in church because they were saying in church how it was a shame how she was treating me, this blind kid she got out there cutting wood, a chip could fly up and hit him. And I always remember that in her tears she said, “It’s true he’s blind, and it’s true a chip could wind up hitting him–but I can see, and a chip could hit me, too.”

And then both of us started crying together.

She always taught me that even people who love you–they’re not going to have time to deal with you as much as you want them to. So you got to learn to do things for yourself. You got to find a way. You may not be able to do it like a sighted person, but there are two ways to do everything. You just got to find the right one that suits you.