Sheila Raye Charles. Does her middle and last name ring a bell? It should if you’re familiar with the legendary Ray Charles. While we no longer have the legend with us, he still lives through his daughter Sheila Raye Charles and his other eleven children. I met Sheila when I was the emcee for the Manhattans and Whispers show in August of this year in Tampa, FL; she was the opening act. Her performance was incredible. She definitely inherited her father’s vocal talent! What’s more, in her performance, she impersonates her father and sings some of his biggest hits. And, mind you, her impersonation is on point. However, Sheila’s talents have gotten her on stages all over the world and continues to perform. I sat down with Sheila and had the following very candid interview.
OM: You are the daughter of the legendary Ray Charles, what is your fondest memory of your father?
Sheila: Oh that is so easy. My fondest memory of him is when I went into the studio with him and recorded. I will never forget how nervous I was thinking I am recording with “the” Ray Charles. It was the first time in my life that he being my father just flew right out the window. This is Ray Charles not just my dad! This was the real deal. He would say to me, “now baby I’ve had Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder and many others in this studio and they were all nervous. Now you are my baby, I do not understand why you would be nervous around your daddy. I said, “Do you realize you are “the” Ray Charles?” and he just cracked up. It was a very beautiful time for me with my father.
OM: What piece of advice did he gave you that you will never forget?
Sheila: All of my life in my musical career the word of advice was to practice, practice, practice. He said continue to surround yourself with people who know more than you because you will know you are always in a learning state.
OM: If you could go back in time and change something about the relationship with your father what would it be and why?
Sheila: I am sure that answer would be the same for all of us children. We would have more of our father and more intimate time with him. I would have also changed the direction my life was in. I would have spent more time and been who he expected me to be.
OM: Did you watch the movie about your dad starring Jamie Foxx? If so, what did you think of it?
Sheila: Oh my gosh! Well I will tell you it was one of the emotional times we’ve had or I’ve ever had my life. I watched the movie Ray with nine of my brothers and sisters that I’ve never met in my life. They flew us all out together. We had just had met at my father’s funeral and then right back to back came out for the movie premiere Ray. We were all holding hands across the front row. It was crazy that we saw this man, Jamie Foxx, literally transform into Ray Charles. When I first heard it I thought to myself this is the same man that played that woman “Wanda” and I thought how could he play the character of greatness such as my father? He nailed it. He blew it right out the park.
OM: How did it make you feel to grow up with a father whom you could see
with your eyes but he could not see you?
Sheila: You know it was really amazing! I’ll tell you why. When I first met my father I swore up and down the brother could see. He moved eloquently around the room and he knew where everything was. I said to my mom I thought you said he was blind? She said “he is blind and why are you whispering because he can hear everything you are saying?” I was in awe of his ability to know where you were. No, I never felt like he could not see; I felt he could see better than most people.
OM: How many siblings do you actually have and did you know about them growing up?
Sheila: I did not know about my siblings growing up. I knew about Ray Jr., Bobby, and David because my mother would speak of them frequently. Of course I met David because he was out on the road with my father. There were times I saw my father on the road and I remember David from those experiences. Ray Jr. happened to be the first musical manager that I had. When I found out about the eight other children that I never met, it blew my mind. He found that it was important to bring us together before he passed.
OM: Did he know that you all were together before he passed away?
Sheila: The year he passed away he flew all the children in from all over the world with the exception of me as I was incarcerated at the time. I missed that meeting so when I got out and heard about it on Ebony and people from the state of Minnesota were talking about it. The children of Ray Charles coming together and the father left them a million dollars and stuff. I heard all of this from the street and I said this can’t be true so I called Ray Charles Enterprises. They said they would have Mr. Adams call you back which was my father’s manager. I had no clue about what was happening.
OM: Why were you incarcerated?
Sheila: You know I went through a long drug habit. That is one of the things I followed in my father’s footsteps with – his addiction. I’m not blaming him but a lot of my mindset or lies I told myself is that if I was in this addiction my father could understand and reach out to me more. In this addiction, I ended up getting involved with some shady people and ended up in federal prison for a course of four and a half years.
OM: What has been the most enlightening thing you’ve experienced that has made you change the way you look at life?
Sheila: Hey! You’ve asked the golden question! Hallelujah, Jesus Christ. My Lord and Savior who did for me what I could not do for myself. Laying on the concrete floor of a federal prison, Sis, I tell you God reached down into a pit of hell and pulled me out. I believed there was nothing left for me no life, no love, self-respect, nothing! I thought I was at the end of myself and that there would never be nothing more for me. God reached down and revealed himself to me and then revealed my real self to me too! He said you need to know who you are in Christ and who I created you to be. I said the salvation prayer at age 16 but I had no clue of the spiritual ramification that would have in my life would have later on. I had no clue that me accepting Jesus at 16 would come back later on and be the saving grace in my life that would begin to change me, rearrange me and transform me forever.
OM: What do you think has been Sheila Raye Charles’s biggest challenge in life thus far and how are you dealing with it?
Sheila: You know I think the biggest challenge I have had in my life right now has continuously been is not letting my past to dictate my future. You know when you have had a long time doing things it is a habit. Even though I have been out of prison since 2003 and ministering around the world since 2007, there are still times when my past will come up. You’ve been through too much and you can’t go to the excellence that God is telling you can. Sometimes I will have those thoughts and remembering that through Jesus Christ I am more than a conqueror. I have been transformed, I have been changed and that the new man is capable of doing all things. That is the challenge and the challenge I think a lot of people have in this world period. Realizing the powerful beings that we are and so I have to keep that on the forefront of my mind.
OM: Wonderful! Now you spoke of the ministry you are doing. Describe briefly the One Way Up Ministry Prison Ministry you started.
Sheila: Oh yes! One Way Up Prison Ministry was founded in 2005. I really began to ministry full time in 2007. It is a ministry that travels around the world and nations with a message of love, hope, mercy, and grace through Christ Jesus to those who are lost inside the walls. Those who are held captive. The bible tells us do not forget those that are in prison and feel their pain as your own. When the Lord gave me that scripture he also took me to James where it says “be doers of the word and not just hearers of the word so deceiving yourself as if you are doing anything.” We have a lot of people that hear the Word of God and that preach the Word of God but are they doers of the Word of God? That was profound to me and hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew that I needed to be a doer when the Lord called me to go back into the prison and share my testimony. It is incredible where God has brought me from. He brought me from the pit of hell to the amazing grace I live in today. It is a story that needs to be told because it changes lives.
OM: You are an entertainer, why did you get into the business?
Sheila: Well it was not because Ray Charles wanted us to! He wanted doctors and lawyers. He said “I will pay for your education as long as you want to go to school just don’t get into this crazy music business.” I knew that God had given me a special gift. When I started singing at a young age, I listened rock-n-roll and I wanted to be the first Black Janis Joplin. I’d tell anyone out there reading this to be mindful what you pray for. I look at the life that I lived and the parallel to Janis Joplin and it is so close that it is crazy except I wound up on this side of eternity. I was saved, sanctified, and free living the life that God has called me to life to my best ability. I got into the music business because I loved music and it was a part of me like a part of my soul and my being. Whenever I was away from it I felt like something was missing. I got involved in music and found that I was a talented writer and had a great ear for harmonies. I could hear a song once or twice and sing them all the way through. Those types of things I think I acquired through the genealogy of my earthly father as well as my heavenly father. I fell in love with it and now I get to sing for the Glory of God even though I get to sing tributes to my father all over the world. I get sing R&B, Jazz, and Soul; even in that I give all glory, honor, and praise to him without him I would not be able to do anything.
OM: Alright! The first tribute given by you and your siblings to your father was on October 3, 2014. What inspired you to do this and will this be an annual tribute?
Sheila: Yes, it will be an annual tribute. Secondly, what inspired me was family. I go around the country and I see families such as myself with single parents with children, or parents separated with children, or broken families. I see the impact it has for those children not standing together in love and coming together on one accord so they can make it through life in power and strength. There is strength in numbers and so the Lord put it on my heart a couple of years ago to start planning this. He said ministry starts at home. It starts in your family, the core and if you want to do something that really shows the love of God bring your brothers and sisters together. Do it in love so that people can see your family unit is so very important against all odds. I mean we had everything against us; we had our father who raised us not knowing each other and we had mothers who thought even thinking of each other was a no-no. They would not be involved in each other’s lives. My father had relationships with 12 kids and 9 mothers. They were fighting for our father’s affection and so to come against all the odds we were dealt and come together in love and to show family matters. What better gift could we give the community and to the world!?
OM: Very nice answer! What is the synopsis of your book “Behind the Shades?” What inspired you to write it?
Sheila: Well I did not want to write it. I actually did not want to tell the world my deepest darkest secrets and to share all the things I had been through especially when God told me my life had changed. What would be the point in rehashing this thing over and over? Little did I know, sharing my story a story of crack cocaine for 20 years, prison, sexual abuse, an alcoholic mother, abandonment issues for her father, a story that culminates the story of one little girl that took her pain and suffering and culminated into this life of hell that would one day be redeemed through God. The Lord told me to share my story with the world and to be transparent. When I did that it was amazing. The first hundred books I sold on the road and the first hundred replies I got back was how this book changed my life and I can’t believe someone else has gone through this, I can’t believe how bold you were, it was just one after the other and they saw the power of God. He still parts the see, he still blocks the sun. The God you know is realIy real if he did it for you he can do it for me. I knew I had to continue with the print. Behind the Shades is a story from victim to victory from being redeemed from a life of darkness through the Love of God so it had to be a story told.
OM: What do you want to world to really know about you?
Sheila: Simple… I love them.
For more information on Sheila Raye Charles, please visit her website sheilarayecharles.com