Ray Charles Robinson was born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia, living his childhood in the hard years of the Depression. When Ray Charles was young, his mother took in wash and he said that his family was so poor that they “ate everything on the pig but the oink.” Ray also said, “Even compared to other blacks, we were on the bottom of the ladder looking up at everyone else. Nothing below us except the ground.” Ray became blind at age 9, two years after witnessing the drowning death of his little brother George in his mother’s laundry tub. This memory haunted him for the rest of his life, being emotionally helpless while his little brother drowned absurdly in a bath basin. At the age of seven his right eye was removed as a result of glaucoma, soon after he became totally blind. Charles reportedly had a busy personal life with two marriages and long-lasting affairs, resulting in him fathering 12 children with 10 different women.
Ray Charles wrote ‘Mary Ann’ for and about Mary Ann Fisher who was his mistress and mother of one of his children and also a woman who toured with him performing vocals as one of the Raelettes. Mary Ann was 32 and working as a dishwasher in 1955 when she met Ray Charles at the USO club at Fort Knox. She toured with him from 1955 until 1958. Ray began hiring female singers to contrast against his voice and to liven up his performances. Mary Ann Fisher tickled Ray’s fancy, as a singer and she later had a minor hit solo single, ‘I Can’t Take It’ on the Seg-Way label. The Atlantic girl group The Cookies, which included Margie Hendrix, Darlene McCrae and Pat Lyles did backup vocals for Neil Sedaka, Little Eva, and Carole King and they had a hit with the song ‘In Paradise’, on Atlantic in early ‘56 were brought in along with Mary Ann, to become The Raelettes (sometimes spelled The Raelets, or The Raeletts, or The Rae-Lettes), Ray’s backing group.
Ray met a girl named Eileen Williams through his friend, and she became his first wife in July of 1951. Their marriage ended in divorce in the year of 1952 because Ray was on the road so much. About three after his divorce Ray met a woman by the name of Della Beatrice Howard in Houston, Texas. Della Beatrice Robinson met Charles when she was one of his backup singers. Their marriage lasted for about twenty-two years and they got a divorce in 1977. The Raelettes formed his support mechanism, both as his backing singers and his love interests. They were the women who called him “Daddy” Charles, complementing his unique mix of gospel, jazz and soul. There was a rumor that in order to be a member of the Raelettes you had to “let Ray”, which refers to the fact that Ray slept with many of the Raelettes over the years, but he did not bag all of them. Charles enjoyed the convenience of being able to sleep with his singers and he never liked to conclude a day without female companionship.
Charles romanced many of the Raelettes, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes switching his affections from one to another. The seven other men in his band would also usually be pursuing whichever women Charles had spurned. His second wife Della was sidelined after she had given birth to their third son and later Margie Hendricks was also sidelined with maternity leave, and she was replaced temporarily by Pat Lyles’ mother Mae Mosely Lyles. With a mother-and-daughter presence in the line-up, Mae Mosely took Margie’s place in more ways than one. When Margie returned a couple of months after the birth, Mae had usurped her in Ray’s affections, and would remain his mistress till the end of 1964. Charles had the shameless audacity to dedicate songs to his affairs, like ‘Mary Ann’. Whilst most of the Raelettes had already been impregnated by Charles, he used women in his lyrics to reinvigorate himself as a suave bachelor.
Mary Ann Fisher is remembered for being one of the first African American women to have a career as a Rhythm and Blues singer, thus paving the way for future generations. She was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and was a regular participant in Kentucky Folklife music stages. A movie titled Ray was made about the legendary soul musician Ray Charles who lived from 1930-2004. Ray is a 2004 American musical biographical film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. This movie won 54 awards. In the film Ray Charles was played by Jamie Foxx and Mary Ann Fisher was played by Aunjanue Ellis.
This is a funny conversation from the film.
Ray Charles: From now on we’re gonna sing a four part harmony. Ethel, I want you to sing alto. Margie, I want you to sing tenor. Pat, soprano, and Mary Ann, bass.
Mary Ann Fisher: I ain’t no bass. I’m a soprano.
Margie Hendricks: I’ll sing bass. Where we come from we can sing anything.
Mary Ann Fisher: We talking about singing, sugar, not hog calling.
Fathead Newman: Oh that’s cold.
Margie Hendricks: Who you calling a hog?
Mary Ann Fisher: Well, if the corn cob fits.
Well now, oh Mary Ann
Well you sure look fine
Well, oh oh now
I could love you all the time
Well, now oh Mary Ann
I said baby, don’t ya know
Well now, oh oh baby
Don’t ya know
Don’t ya know baby
That I love you so
Oh well oh oh
I’m gonna talk about it, hmmm…
Oooh, Mary Ann
Can I take you home tonight
Oh baby, yeah, yeah
Can I take you home tonight
If you let me baby
I’ll make everything alright
Oh well oh oh
I’ve got a feeling.
Written for Scotts Daily Prompt – Bag.