Archived Story

Sheila Raye is her own legend

Published 7:18am Friday, December 10, 2010

People out at Legacy Hall on the campus of M State got a very special treat Thursday morning.

The daughter of the late, great Ray Charles was on campus to share her inspiring story about life, its challenges, and the triumphs that can emerge when you work hard to become your own legend.

Oh, yeah. And she donned a pair of sunglasses — like the signature pair her famous father wore — and sang a medley of songs made famous by Ray, including “Unchain My Heart,” “Hit the Road Jack” and “Georgia.”

Sheila Raye Charles didn’t grow up knowing her father.She was born Sheila Robinson, one of 12 children Ray Charles fathered with nine different women.

She was raised in Cambridge, Ohio by her mother and didn’t meet her father until she was 14 years old.

Life’s challenges started at an early age when she suffered sexual abuse during her childhood and as a result spent many years struggling to find her identity.

At 13, Sheila moved to Los Angeles to live with an uncle, hoping to build a relationship with her famous father.

Things didn’t go as planned, and within a year, Sheila moved back with her mom in Ohio. The move was another step in a journey filled with trouble.

She ran away to North Carolina. When Sheila was 16, she was in an auto accident and suffered head injuries that took her many years to recover from.

When she was 19 she defied her father’s wishes and pursued a career in music, according to her biography on her website.

Demonstrating her commitment and her talent, her father actually brought her and her band into his studio and personally produced several songs.

Sheila travelled with the DeBarge family and found herself in Minneapolis to record at Paisley Park, Prince’s studio. But the music industry failed to produce any of Sheila’s music and she instead turned to songwriting. In 1990, Sheila was voted New Artist of the Year at the Minnesota Black Music Awards and continued to receive advice from her father on her musical career.

But she couldn’t shed her personal problems and eight years ago Sheila was living in a federal prison.

The 46-year-old Charles talked Thursday about the drug use that sent her to prison and separated her from her family.

Sheila has described herself as a cracked out, burned-up rag. She says Christianity’s message of fulfillment, hope and a future ended her pain, shame and resentment — and allowed her to stop using drugs and rebuild relationships with her own children..

Charles has written a book, “Behind the Shades,” and produced a collection of music by the same name. She also has a prison ministry through which she shares her message.

Sheila Raye appears to have found an inner peace. She married in August and is following her dreams.

She embraces the fact that she is the daughter of Ray Charles but has used her faith in God to build a new life. She uses that faith to share her message of overcoming life’s struggles so others, too, can see that emerge from even their darkest moments.

Sheila Raye Charles has become her own legend.

Jeff Hage is the managing editor of The Daily Journal. Reach him by email at

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