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Ray Charles’ Visual Impairment May Have Fueled His Creative Genius: Celebrity Legacies

Celebrity Legacies on ReelzChannel is back! I am so excited for these new episodes to air.

American musician Ray Charles has been referred to as “The Genius” for good reason; known as the father of soul, Ray combined elements of gospel, rock, country, and jazz to produce a truly unique sound. Additionally, he was one of the first African Americans to have almost complete artistic freedom with a major record label. A prolific pianist, songwriter, and performer, Ray enthralled the nation with such hits as “Hit the Road Jack,” “I Got a Woman,” and his acclaimed cover of “Georgia On My Mind.”

Ray Charles’s Successes

The smashing success of Charles’s decade-spanning career is clearly evident: 17 Grammy awards, induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and other creative masters like Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel singing his praises. Even the United States Postal Service paid homage to Ray by putting his face on a forever stamp in 2013. But when you consider the fact that he developed glaucoma as a young child and was completely blind by the age of 7, his accomplishments become truly remarkable.

Never Used Blindness As a Crutch

Charles’s visual impairment at such a young age would profoundly influence his outlook on life. Wanting to instill in him a spirit of grit and perseverance, his mother refused to coddle him and insisted that despite his blindness, he learn to cut firewood and help with family chores. This attitude of self-reliance served him as he navigated the tough entertainment industry. “I am my own engineer,” he once explained.

Other Creative Individuals Who Experienced Physical Limitations

Ray Charles is certainly not the only great creative mind who had to overcome challenges to reach his peak. Indeed, many other wunderkinds also experienced physical and/or mental setbacks. Going as far back as ancient Greece, the great orator Demosthenes had a severe speech impediment but was nonetheless able to impress with his great skills of rhetoric and debate. Ludwig van Beethoven, the German classical composer, began losing his hearing as a young adult and was completely deaf for the last decade of his life. Interestingly, this is the period in which he wrote many of his most prominent works, namely his famous Ninth Symphony (which includes “Ode to Joy” in the final movement), which is universally considered to be Beethoven’s most important artistic contribution and one of the greatest pieces of western music. These are just a few examples of individuals who achieved creative greatness despite physical limitations.

How And Why They Achieve Greatness

Why is it that some people who experience mental and/or physical handicaps are able to have high levels of success? Perhaps as was the case with Ray Charles they have had to develop a great deal of resilience, character, and determination to compensate for their challenges, which has then carried over to their creative pursuits. Maybe their limitations have caused them to be able to really focus and hone in on the talents and abilities they do possess. This certainly seems to be the case with Ray, who toward the end of his life expressed that, “it would be a real bitch if I ever lost my hearing. I know I couldn’t be no Helen Keller; that would be worse than death.” Whether it was due to pride, courage, stubbornness, or other reasons or motivations, it is a testament to the legacy of such creative individuals that they were able to accomplishment great things despite significant physical challenges.

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About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.

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