Ray Charles and true blind faith

Ray Charles and true blind faith

The loss of one of the five bodily faculties leads to the maximised efficiency and functioning of the remaining four senses. Though one cannot claim to understand this in the full because one still possesses the five senses of sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing, the premise is that nature always finds a way to adapt to a change in the circumstances.
This observation rings true when one analyses the daily lives of figures whose loss of a certain faculty of bodily function led to their being labelled disabled or challenged.
Rather than succumb to the disability, many of them actually find a way to adapt and make good on the use of the remaining faculties. Many who could be labelled as disabled actually go on to achieve feats far greater than those of able-bodied peers who lack not in terms of the use of the senses or organs.

An example can be drawn from the life of Ray Charles, a musician whose blindness enhanced the competitive edge when it comes to the performance of music across the diverse stages across the world rather than limit him.
The natural expectation would be that he would walk with a white cane or be led by a guide-dog for all of his life, the loss of sight limiting him into being declared disabled. The towering figure however blundered on into unfamiliar territory and used sound as the tool of sight, in the process enlightening even those able-bodied ones that could not see the world and its spirit of hope.

I had heard about Ray Charles as a kid, hadn’t heard much on his life’s story until I saw the stellar performance by the super-talented Jamie Fox in the biopic Ray.
A true-life biography in motion on the life of a figure whose rendition of the song Georgia on My Mind (composed, written and first recorded in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell) led to the song being declared the official state song of Georgia in 1979.
The song could have been just any other composition; it took the blind Ray Charles’ 1960 album The Genius Hits the Road version to elevate the song to the status of being declared the official state song.
Written by the seeing and enhanced by the blind, the life and the songs of Ray Charles reveal the true irony of the world: it takes more than talent to achieve greatness. There is a spirit beyond the senses that leads to simple individuals ending up declared as superheroes.

One can guess that one has to look beyond the ordinary to see the greatness beyond what is considered as normal. What is normal or considered as such has the tendency to limit the mind to the point where what is achievable ends up seeming impossible. It takes strong character to look beyond this seemingly gargantuan veil of impossibility to see the endless possibilities that lie beyond the prevailing circumstances and the challenges that come therewith.
It was a few years ago in a Malcolm X biopic’ soundtrack that I heard the hauntingly true but melodious tune by Ray Charles, That Lucky Old Sun, a song that leaves one’s back-hairs to their ends. There is just no way one can easily ignore this masterpiece; from the first drum-roll and the orchestra symphony to Ray’s definitive lamenting voice singing that quintessential working class anthem:
Up in the morning, out on the job
And I work like the devil for my pay
I know that lucky old sun has nothing to do
But roll around heaven all day
(Roll around heaven all day)

The entire progression of the song recounts the daily struggle of the working class in cotton-fields and factory floors, the daily challenges and questions on when things will turn out better for them.
It is not much in the eyes of the privileged few, but one can guess that the song means more than just lyrics for the majority that live below the poverty line despite toiling as slaves just to make the bread.
It is a kind of living on the inside of the house of squalor looking out at the splendour, as a farmer would observe the clouds in the midst of a serious drought, hoping that they would pour down some rain on the crops and the land to make life a bit easier than the prevailing circumstances.

It took a blind man to show one the meaning of hope, that one does not actually have to see the world to understand the hardships and the hope it carries in a symbiotic pattern on a daily basis.
Ray Charles Robinson was born on the 23rd of September 1930, in Albany, Georgia, United States, and died on the 10th of June 2004, in Beverly Hills, California. A brief biography on BBC’s website states, “Few epithets sit less comfortably than that of genius; Ray Charles held this title for over 40 years and he was a true musical genius.”

Spending his entire life as a singer, composer, arranger and pianist, his prolific work deserved no other praise. Born in Albany, Georgia, one of the segregated states of the American ‘Deep South’ where blacks lived in extreme poverty and segregation, Ray Charles Robinson grew up in Greenville, Florida.
He was slowly blinded by glaucoma from age five until, by the age of seven, he had lost his sight completely. This is the point where he would go on a journey into the self, largely guided by his strong mother who instilled in the blind Ray a true sense of self-dependency and clear understanding of a condition that limited his life only if he agreed with it.

His mother hammered it into his head that the world owed him nothing, that he had to find his way despite his blindness and this culminated in Ray being sent to the state-supported St. Augustine school for the Deaf and Blind.
It would send him away from home, on a journey into the thick of the hardships of life both as a black child in a racist society and a blind individual trying to make a way in the brutal world of entertainment.
Of the blind having to traverse their way in the world of the living, what is clear is the fact that it is twice or even thrice as hard for a blind individual to make it in music. The most basic right, freedom of movement is largely impeded by the lack of sight, leading one to wonder: what then of doing something as complicated as mastering a musical instrument? A description of the hardships of mastering music as found on the Foxx Entertainment website states:
Blind kids study by reading the music with their fingers. Charles would read three or four bars of music with his fingers, and then play it. Unlike those with sight, a blind person can’t just sit and play as they read the music. First they must learn the bars of music, practice it, play it and memorise it.

That Ray had earlier been forced to cope with the tragic death of his brother, whom he had seen drown in a water tub and dealing with the fading sight as the glaucoma progressed meant that he experienced trauma and sadness from an early age.
That he managed to overcome the lack in sight was due to his mother who instead of being sympathetic to her child’s disability instilled a sense of independence in him.
When they split when he went to the state-owned school for the blind and deaf, Ray was to a large extent prepared for the tumultuous journey ahead in the world of entertainment. It was at St Augustine’s that he learned to read and write music in Braille and was proficient on several instruments by the time he left school.
His mother Aretha died when Ray was 15, and he continued to have a shared upbringing with Mary Jane (the first wife of his absent father). Ray then left school to pursue his destiny in music where he would become the giant he ended up as to this day.

In 1978, Dial Press published his autobiography, “Brother Ray.” In his autobiography Charles states:
“I was born with music inside me. That’s the only explanation I know of… Music was one of my parts … like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me, like food or water.”
In this declaration, one can fully understand the sense of commitment with which he dealt with the challenges that came with being a superstar, encountering crowds of tempters and doubters along the way, and being ostracised by the state of his birth (Georgia) for his refusal to play in front of a segregated crowd in 1961.
Commitment to his calling meant that he would encounter hardships not only associated with his condition but also drug addiction (with particular reference to heroin) which he overcame.
There was always the voice of his mother guiding him on from beyond the grave focusing on his sense of freedom and his power to overcome any obstacle that came his way.

We the seeing can learn a thing or two from the life of the man who saw the light as a child, lost sight as a child, but still went on to teach the world to get out of the spirit of blindness brought by racism.
Ray played across a lot of musical genres, from spirituals to soul music, from country to rock music, from jazz to blues. It takes a lot of soul-searching for anyone to walk the long journey of life as one individual; it takes deeper soul-searching to deal with the adverse conditions one encounters as either blind or crippled.
Humans tend to segregate those that seem different from them, and for such ostracised individuals to rise above the denigration into the hallowed halls of glory and fame takes out of the well of self-acceptance and resilience.
I guess many of us could not walk a day in the blind man’s shoes if we tried, I therefore feel that we should honour those that drudge on through life and go on to achieve a type of success that is way above the common man’s conception and understanding despite their apparent disability.

There are lessons to learn from those individuals that rise above the odds stacked against them to reach heights unfathomed. Their lives actually make us aware that there is more to life than just the condition we are born into.
Where others foresee failure, such individuals portend success, making them all the more admirable as they represent the indomitable spirit of the really valorous human beings.
Facing hunger and being conned out of the proceeds of his music due to his blindness, Ray Charles did not go on and whine but chinned on to the pedestals and podiums of glory. What we are really made of does not reveal itself when the conditions are right or comfortable.

The real qualities of the individual actually come out in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, as is seen in the life of Ray Charles and other blind people that went on to achieve greatness in their lifetimes.
One often wonders why the youth of today actually find time to mope and to engage in toyi-toyis because ‘the conditions don’t favour’ their development, that many of them languish in unemployment hoping that some economic messiah shall come save them. It should instil a sense of shame in anyone reading on the lives of individuals that overcame the odds to reach their goals despite having some disability.
Their lives should teach us to be more diligent, to be more committed to the attainment of the dreams that come in the everyday lives of the ordinary and exceptional individuals that pass through life.
That Ray Charles became a ray of hope in the Civil Rights Movement of the USA in the late 1950’s through to the 1970’s was largely due to the fact that he loved his music, not because some record producer loved what he heard in a demo tape.

Love conquers all, that is, where there is love, there are no barriers one cannot overcome once they have fallen in love with something.
Whether it be music as Ray did, or a service one has to perform for profit or non-profit, the hardships seem much easier if one actually loves what they do genuinely.
There are a million theories put forward about the hardships of the present times, but the reality is that it was even harder in the days of Ray and company.

The mentality that Aretha Robinson instilled in her son to be independent actually goes against the grain of the modern world where welfare cheques and youth relief societies abound, in the process creating a generation of dependants relying on government welfare programmes instead of on themselves and their given talents.
Ray Charles actually stands as the epitome of self-sufficiency and fortitude needed to see this world move on into progress where all shall begin to acknowledge each other and their abilities despite seeming disability.

Tsépiso S Mothibi

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