Introduction to Ray Charles by Sharon Bell Mathis
Sharon Bella Mathis, a former teacher who graduated from the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Morgan State, along with illustrator George Ford, in their book, Ray Charles, tell the story of Ray Charles Robinson, world-renowned musician whose soulful mix of jazz and blues melodies captivated audiences. Rising from humble beginnings, Ray Charles is more than a musician. He is a justice fighter, a humanitarian, an entrepreneur, a father, and a grandfather. The legendary superstar who lost his site at seven years of age is a testament to the perseverance, dedication, and resilience needed to reach one’s goals in the face of adversity.
George Ford’s illustrations add another layer of depth to Charles’s story. Created in Indian and acrylic ink, Ford used actual photographs given to him by Ray Charles’s team. Without childhood photos of Ray Charles, who was born in the 1930s, Ford had to imagine the star as a blind child in school. In 1974, George Ford won the Coretta Scott King award for the illustrations in this book.
Check out our Black History Month poems for more reading in February!
Ray Charles by Sharon Bell Mathis Book Activities
Questions for Comprehension
These questions are to be used for comprehension after reading the book
- Why was Ray Charles Robinson nicknamed “Foots?”
- Why was there a “Black children’s side of the wire“ at St. Augustine’s school?
- What made it difficult for Black families to find good medical care?
- What is Braille and how is it used?
- Why did Ray Charles Robinson go to Seattle, Washington after his mother died?
- How did Ray Charles earn money while living in Seattle?
- At one point, Ray Charles Robinson shortens his name to Ray Charles. Why?
- How did Ray Charles lose the six hundred dollars he saved?
- How did Ray Charles and the McSon Trio make history?
- Ray Charles was a perfectionist. Provide examples from the story of his perfectionism.
- Besides Ray Charles’ musical ability, in what other ways is he exceptional?
- musical arrangements
Music Appreciation and Listening
Watch this video of Ray Charles’s live performance of Georgia on My Mind. It was filmed at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 19, 1997. The performance features Ray Charles, his orchestra, led by saxophone player Al Jackson, and his backup singers, The Raelettes. As you listen, do so with more than just your ears. How does your body feel as you take in the words, melody, and instruments?
Acrylic Art Activity*
In this activity, you will work with white and black acrylic paint. George Ford used black and white inks to create images that played with light and dark, shadows, and reflections. However, because most people do not have ink on hand, using acrylics is an alternative.
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* adapted from the book “Drawing in Black & White” By Deborah Velasquez
- drop-cloth to cover work space
- gray card stock (heavy) or mixed media paper (grey)
- black acrylic paint
- white acrylic paint
- image of a flower to use as a reference
- white gel pen
- paint brushes
- Cover the area with drop cloth
- place the card stock atop the cloth
- study the image of the flower that you are using. Notice where the light shines and the differences in colors within the flower.
- mix the black paint with different amounts of water to create different levels of transparency
- Using various size brushes, paint a foundation layer with the lightest black color. Let dry.
- Paint several layers from light to dark and then let the paint dry.
- Using your gel pen, go in and add details to your painting.
You might also like this Black History Month Easy Art Project (for younger artists).