Sheila Raye Charles
Raye Charles is the daughter of pianist soul singer Ray
Charles. Her life has been a bumpy ride, but she is
now back on the path traveling the country sharing her
story and singing her, and her father's, songs.
Charles -- also called Sheila Jean Robinson -- was born in
Los Angeles in 1963 to Charles and Cambridge native Sandra
Jean Betts. She and her mother moved around quite a bit as
she grew up, living for a number of years in Cambridge. But
wherever she went Sheila Raye kept in mind her goal of
someday becoming a singer like her father.
loved all types of music but especially rock and roll.
"I wanted to
be the black Janice Joplin," she said. "I did a soft-rock
demo, but the music producers said, no, you're Ray Charles's
kid. You can't do rock, you have to do rhythm and blues. So
I thought, OK, and wrote some really cool originals."
music was well accepted and she has done well with it. But
her path was not always easy. Charles, while very successful
in his musical career, spent his life on the road and was
not very available to his family.
Charles had 12 children with nine different women.
"And we didn't
know about each other until his funeral," Sheila Raye said.
"All my life I wanted someone who knew what it was like
being the child of a superstar who didn't have time for me,
and then at his funeral I met 11 brothers and sisters who
really did know. It turned out he really did love us all the
same ... the best he could."
new family connections have been a real blessing to her. Her
loneliness as a child, the misery of feeling rejected by a
sometimes-father and being moved from place to place by a
mother who didn't seem to fare any better in relationships
than her father led her to run away from home at 15. On the
streets, she became addicted to drugs, suffered physical and
mental abuse at the hands of others and eventually landed in
federal prison. This was a cycle Sheila Raye repeated for
years, eventually giving birth to and losing five children
because of her seemingly uncontrollable drug addiction.
It was her
second stint in federal prison that she credits with saving
her life, as it was there she made her peace with God and
walking, living testimony to God's love," she said. "I
brought my troubles on myself, but He saved me. The greatest
thing I've learned is to let God be who he is in my life. He
created all of us and I think it's so beautiful to know he
can connect with us."
release from prison, Sheila Raye has felt her calling is to
show other lost women how to reclaim their lives by being
very transparent about her own difficult journey. In 2007,
she started the One Way Up Prison Ministry, and spends much
of her time traveling to prisons across the country singing
and talking to the women there.
"I try to give
them a different way of life so they'll have hope," she
father's death in 2004, Sheila Raye found her place in the
musical world bringing both her music and the music of her
father to people everywhere.
people really like to have a continuation of Ray Charles and
I can give them that," she said.