How Many Children Did Ray Charles Have?

Ray Charles was a legendary musician. He won numerous awards, including Grammys and lifetime achievement awards. His beautiful voice combined with his unique style of mixing multiple genres into one–his music contained notes of blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, and rock. 

Charles had a difficult childhood, losing his eyesight at a very young age. He learned to persevere through many trials to become a music icon. Like many entertainers who spend their whole lives in the business, he attracted quite a fan club. Women couldn’t get enough of Ray Charles and he fathered a surprising number of children during his career…

Ray Charles playing piano, singing into a microphone
Ray Charles | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ray Charles: Being raised by two completely different women shaped his entire life

Ray Charles was born in Georgia, but raised in Florida after his family moved when he was a baby, according to Biography. When Ray was just five years old, tragedy struck the family. His younger brother drowned, and Ray witnessed the event, unable to help. 

When Ray was six, the family was dealt yet another serious blow. He began to lose his sight and was completely blind by the time he was seven. He began attending school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. It was there that he discovered his incredible gift for music, playing a variety of instruments and exploring many genres. 

According to Slate, Ray’s mother wasn’t the only female influence in his life. He had another motherly figure who helped raise him — Mary Jane, his father’s ex-wife. Mary Jane and Ray’s mother, Aretha, had wildly different personalities. He says he referred to Aretha as “Mama” and Mary Jane as “Mother.” 

The two women had a very different idea of how Ray should be treated after he went blind. Aretha wanted her son to grow to be a strong, self-sufficient man despite his handicap. It was important to her that he should learn to be as independent as possible from an early age, and she refused to cater to his every need. 

Mary Jane, however, was far more indulgent. She also loved the young boy, and she wanted to be as much help as possible. Unfortunately, her good intentions often resulted in spoiling Ray. This was likely one of the main reasons he developed such a self-indulgent personality later in life, constantly looking for instant gratification with drugs and women. 

12 children from 10 different women over a course of almost 40 years…

In addition to being an incredibly gifted musician, Ray Charles also knew how to put on the charm. He was charismatic and engaging and women just couldn’t get enough of him–and vice versa. Charles loved the women, and everyone knew it. 

According to Rare, Charles fathered 12 children over the course of nearly 40 years. He was married twice — his first marriage to Eileen Williams lasted less than a year. He then married Della Beatrice Howard Robinson in 1955. The couple was together for 22 years and had three children together.

Robinson decided to divorce Charles in 1977 when his drug and alcohol abuse became too much for her. During his marriage to Robinson, Charles had several affairs. These affairs produced six more children in that 22 years. After his divorce from Robinson, he fathered two more children — one in 1978 and one in 1987. 

A large portion of Charles’ estate went to charity

Ray Charles died on June 10, 2004, after a long battle with liver disease, according to NPR. Charles had a wildly successful music career, winning 12 Grammys and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

After 50 years in the entertainment industry, Charles had built quite a large estate. He left most of the money from his estate to the Ray Charles Foundation, a charity that supports the hearing and vision impaired. Each of his 12 children received $500,000 in their trust funds. 

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