The Reel Story: It’s not easy to play a legend, but in the movie “Ray,” Jamie Foxx seamlessly steps into the role of Ray Charles. Channeling the musician in a way that makes it seem as if Charles were whispering cues in his ear, Foxx has already garnered Oscar buzz. From his stage presence to his sway, Foxx perfectly captures every element of Charles’ demeanor, including the R&B legend’s charm with the ladies.
The movie shows Charles unchaining more than a few hearts, including Kerry Washington’s Della Bea Robinson and Regina King’s Margie Hendricks. In the film, Charles is portrayed as a rampant womanizer, to the point of hurting the people he loved the most. Watching “Ray,” it’s hard not to wonder: Was Ray Charles really a ladies’ man?
The Real Story: Was he ever. Ray Charles Robinson (his full name) was married twice, but he reportedly had nine — some reports claim as many as 12 — children via seven women. Although Charles was blind, he was fiercely independent and rarely used seeing-eye dogs or canes.
“The only time where he ever appeared to have any kind of handicap was when a beautiful woman was in the room. Then he started walking into walls and so forth,” legendary producer and longtime collaborator Quincy Jones told “60 Minutes” shortly after the musician’s passing in June. “Can I help you, Mr. Charles?” Jones said the sympathetic women would ask. “He’d get real blind, you know, when the pretty girls were around.”
“Ray” focuses on Charles’ relationships with his wife Della Bea and his mistress Margie, but the R&B legend had a far more colorful love life. Charles first married Eileen Williams when he was 21 years old, and they had one child. They divorced after only a year, and he went on to marry Della Bea — one of the original Raelettes, his backup singers. She remained his wife for 22 years. Over the years, Charles was involved with other Raelettes — including Margie Hendricks — and other women who bore him his large brood.
The man who was rarely without his signature cocktail — coffee, sugar and gin — was a legendary womanizer, and like all legends, it’s tough to separate truth from fiction. One widely repeated rumor was that Charles could tell if a woman was attractive just by touching her hand. Another, nearly accepted as fact, is that his singers would joke that to be part of the Raelettes, a girl would have to “let Ray.”
Charles told his side of the story in his autobiography, “Brother Ray,” but like many artists, his tumultuous personal life played itself out in his music, with results — “I Got a Woman,” “Georgia on My Mind” — that can only be described as genius.
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