Sheila Raye Charles: Ray’s baby no more, no more
Singer talks addiction, salvation and stepping out of her father’s shadow
Sheila Raye Charles is one of the 12 children of legendary musician Ray Charles. A talent in her own right, she came to Boston earlier this month to headline at the Hard Rock Café. Before the show, The Banner spoke with Charles about overcoming personal demons and dealing with tragedy and loss to eventually discover her own light and her own voice.
What was it like being Ray Charles’ daughter?
You know, all my life it was never “This is Sheila.” Even my mom got in the habit of [saying] “This is Ray’s baby, Sheila.” It was always Ray first, then me. So I lost sense of who I was. Especially growing up when I didn’t have a relationship with him. Everybody wanted me to live up to the idea of who Ray was, but I didn’t even know Ray back then. How do I live up to who he is when I don’t know him? This created a lot of pain for me.
Were you able to ever have a relationship with your father?
What happened with me and my dad is over the years we connected through music. I’m the only child of his 12 children that he recorded with, that he brought into his studio and did music with, so we built a relationship that way.
Despite your obvious talent, you went through some difficult times getting to the place you are now. Tell us more about that.
I was molested many times when I was a young girl, so I had the baggage from all that as well as not having a relationship with my father growing up. I turned to a life of drug abuse. I became addicted to crack-cocaine and was addicted for over 20 years. I had five children; three of which were born addicted to crack cocaine, and that addiction put me in federal prison not once, not twice, but three times.
What caused you to get out of that destructive lifestyle?
I found myself one day, believe it or not, laying on the concrete floor of the federal prison, crying out to God, and without expecting an answer his voice came inside of me. I cannot describe with words how that felt. God said to me “If you give me all of your pain, all of your hurt, all of the things you are holding onto, I will give you my holy spirit, my goodness, my long suffering, my peace and then I’ll send you around the world to talk about it.”
People that live in the heart of crack cocaine or heroin or meth act like they’re alone because it’s such a secret life that you live. So when you are coming to the light of life, you don’t want to share that, you don’t want to tell anybody. But a part of being healed is releasing it to God. That’s my journey.
What has made you not take the gospel singer route? You’re not technically a gospel singer.
Well…that just depends on who you ask. I’ve spoken at probably over 500 churches this year, so if you ask them, I’m a gospel singer. But I did what my father did. I took all the g enres of music and put them together, but I sing a message of God.
So when I go into a club, into a jazz club, or a concert hall and there are people partying and having a good time, I don’t come there to condemn them. I come there because in spite of everything that’s going on, there are still hurt people. People who are there to see the concert – I say, “Look, this is my story, this is my life, and this is what God did for me.”
You didn’t have the best relationship with your father growing up, but now you include his songs in your act. What perspective and place do you sing his song from now?
When I got saved, God showed me that I was empowered through Him, not because I was the daughter of Ray Charles, and it changed the way I looked at things. That there was nothing wrong with me being just me. Then it was like wow! It’s really cool to be the daughter of Ray Charles, because God even orchestrated that. He knew what he was doing when He created my father, and He knew that I would eventually continue his legacy around the world by being an encouragement to others.
Now coming from that place of not really having your father in your life, to your children not having you during your struggle with addiction and incarceration, do you now have a relationship with all five of your children?
I have a relationship with three of them. One of my daughters ran away from foster care when she was 16; she’s been with me since then. The second to the younger two have come back in my life since 2010. A promise God gave me was that my children would all be back. I don’t have a relationship with my son because his foster parents are hanging on, but I look forward to having a relationship with him when he turns 18.
All I want to do is be a part of the family and share in the parenting of the children that God blessed me with and blessed them with. So it’s been a really cool experience, but a challenging experience. It’s been a growing experience. I’m learning how to even be a mother again. I’m learning how to love in a purified way … It’s a promise; it’s a prophesy that God gave me while laying on the concrete floor of that prison, “You will see your children come back to you because you surrendered your life to me.” And I believe that to be true.
For more on Sheila Raye Charles, visit http://sheilarayecharles.com/ and pick up her autobiography “Behind the Shades,” available in stores now.