Ray Charles' daughter to sing, share her story
by W. Winston Skinner
When Sheila Raye Charles wanted to go into music as a career, her famous father was opposed.
Next week, Ms. Charles will come to Newnan, where she will sing and share the story of her path through the music industry to drugs, crime — and God. She will be at the meeting of Celebrate Recovery on March 28 at 6:30 p.m. at SonRise Baptist Church.
Bill Larkey, who works with the local Celebrate Recovery group, said everyone is excited that Sheila Raye Charles “will be coming to share her testimony and song.” Ms. Charles said, “I am excited to have the opportunity to bring a message of hope in love.”
Singing has been a natural thing for Ms. Charles, who is the daughter of legendary entertainer Ray Charles. Sharing her story was a bit harder, but she said she feels strongly sharing it is what God wants her to do.
“My story is very intricate and very detailed,” she said. Sharing the less savory aspects of her life story has become a way to witness for God, who brought her through – and out of – that life. “God is still in the business of doing modern-day miracles,” Ms. Charles said.
“I’m going to sing some Ray. People can expect to hear some Ray,” she said of her visit to SonRise.
A talented singer/songwriter, Sheila Raye Charles has found her voice in acoustic jazz and R&B with lyrics that deliver the personal journey of her own life and her relationship with her legendary father. “My music is my story,” she said.
That story is “very colorful,” Ms. Charles said, but “also very painful.” She added, “When you express yourself – and not all of it being very nice – there are things you feel ashamed to share.”
She reflected on how her faith led her to be willing to share her story with Celebrate Recovery groups and other organizations. “God revealed to me that it wasn’t just a story for me, but a story to change people’s lives – to take them out of darkness and into the life.”
The knowledge that her story could turn people to God is what motivates Ms. Charles “to share my story.”
Ray Charles initially was adamantly opposed to his daughter entering the music industry. “He did change his mind,” Sheila Raye Charles recalled. He was won over “when he saw my sincerity,” she said, and “believed that I would do well.”
Her hard work eventually led her famous father to allow her “to be a part of his world,” he said. Ray Charles actually brought his daughter and her band into his studio and personally produced several songs.
Ironically, her music career led her to use illegal drugs – exactly what her father had feared.
His grudging approval played a role in her descent into drug abuse. “There are so many people who love my father, but there are so many heartaches that I would not have had to experience had he been more supportive of my career,” Ms. Charles reflected.
Her 20-year crack cocaine addiction led to time in federal prison and the loss of custody of her five children. When she finally surrendered to God’s will, she was at her lowest point and desperate for relief from the personal pain she had created.
Today, Sheila Raye Charles is called upon to provide skin tingling renditions of her father’s best-known songs, from “America the Beautiful” to “Hit The Road Jack” to “Georgia.” She has sung in jazz festivals and embassy parties – in clubs and places of worship. Her memoir, “Behind the Shades,” was published in 2006.
Recently, she signed with Conquer Entertainment. One of her upcoming projects is “We Are Hope,” which she described as a “We Are the World” type of song. The song project’s goal is “to bring a message of empowerment... to the youth.”
“When Love Calls” is her next gospel album. “Sheila Raye Sings Ray” is a recording of Sheila Raye Charles singing her father’s famous songs.
Ms. Charles said she has concerns about the music industry today and wants to see more positive, life affirming messages in popular songs. She said music today is “completely saturated” with immorality and with the affirmation of lifestyle decisions that lead to destruction.
She observed that it is considered OK to sing about adultery, selling drugs, using drugs or being a drug dealer or pimp. “But if you say ‘Jesus,’ you get knocked off the mountain and get put in the religion category,” she said.
“We’re not trying to take away your freedom of speech,” Ms. Charles said. What she would like to see is “a greater choice of the music they can listen to,” she said. There needs to be music that reflects values “we want our children to embrace,” she added.
In 2010, Sheila Raye Charles married Michael “Tony” Steptoe, whose life choices detoured him from a full athletic scholarship to 11 years in a state prison, including time in a Teen Challenge Program.
The couple both work with One Way Up Prison Ministry. During 2012, Robinson and Steptoe visited more than 48 jails and prisons in 10 states. They visited nine of those facilities more than once.
They have shared their story and message of hope and love at 367-plus churches, recovery groups and service organizations as they travel.
One Way Up has three goals – to bring a message of hope and love to a “hopeless” society, to support the development of tools and resources for inmates re-entering society, and to raise awareness of the importance of prison ministry and mentoring.
Both Robinson’s and Steptoe’s personal success are anchored in a strong spiritual relationship.
Ray Charles was a native of the south Georgia city of Albany, although he grew up in Florida. His daughter had not been to her father’s native state until a few years ago for any length of time. “I might have dropped through there,” she said, speaking of her years when she was crossing the country.
Sheila Raye Charles did attend the dedication of Ray Charles Plaza in Albany and moved awhile back to Stockbridge where she lives on Elijah Mountain.
“It’s fabulous,” she said of the view.
“I love Georgia. I understand why my Dad had Georgia on his mind,” she said. “Everything is coming together wonderfully.”