Ray Charles Is 2021’s Veterans Era Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee
Nearly 60 years after his landmark Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music albums, Ray Charles is joining the Country Music Hall of Fame. The multi-genre icon, who died at the age of 73 in 2004, is 2021's Veterans Era inductee.
Born in Albany, Ga., in 1930 and raised in Greenville, Fla., Charles — who was a toddler when he started to lose his vision and was legally blind by the time he was seven years old — learned to play piano while enrolled at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. He left school at 14, after his mother's death in 1945, and began moving around Florida, then around the country, to play professionally.
After a brief record deal with Swing Time Records, Charles signed with Atlantic Records in 1952. His music drew from soul and blues, gospel and jazz, and Charles found success on both the R&B, pop and adult contemporary charts.
Charles' first explicitly country song came in 1959: a cover of Hank Snow's 1950 song "I'm Movin' On." After he signed with ABC-Paramount in late 1959, and released his Modern Sounds ... albums in 1962; the first record was an all-genre No. 1 album, while Volume Two went to No. 2, and both included multiple hit singles.
While the country music industry never fully embraced Charles — who was Black and began his work in the genre during the Civil Rights Movement — he'd earn a dozen country chart hits throughout the 1980s. "Seven Spanish Angels" with Willie Nelson was a No. 1, and several other Top 20 singles came from his Friendship album of collaborations.
Throughout his nearly 60-year career, Charles won 17 Grammy Awards, was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, earned the Presidential Media for the Arts, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and more. He's a 1986 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee — the organization's inaugural class — as well as 2015 Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame inductee and the Songwriters' Hall of Fame's 1993 Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
“I’d like to thank everyone who voted to induct Ray Charles into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Needless to say, Ray Charles loved country music; as a matter of fact, he risked a lot in 1962 when he decided to record Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," says Ray Charles Foundation President Valerie Ervin. "I cannot express enough how happy and honored Ray Charles would be at this moment in time, as I am for him."
Charles' induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame was announced during a Monday morning (Aug. 16) ceremony hosted by Reba McEntire. He, along with the Judds (2021's Modern Era inductee), drummer Eddie Bayers and pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake (inductees in the Recording and/or Touring Musician category, who tied for the honor), will officially join the Hall of Fame during a Medallion Ceremony on a to-be-announced date in Spring 2022 (delayed from the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
The Country Music Association created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, to recognize both creatives and key music business players within the country music industry. In the 60 years since, the CMA has voted in country greats yearly — a total of 146 through 2021. The CMA's Hall of Fame Panel of Electors, an anonymous group of voters appointed by the CMA Board of Directors, selects each year's class.
Country Music Hall of Fame Class of 2020 members Hank Williams Jr., Marty Stuart and songwriter Dean Dillon have also not yet been formally inducted, due to the pandemic. Per a press release, they will officially join the Hall of Fame prior to the Class of 2021, in November.
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