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Sheila Raye Charles: Ray's baby no more, no more

Tiffany Probasco | 11/28/2012, 7:20 a.m.
Singer talks addiction, salvation and stepping out of her father’s shadow Tiffany Probasco ...
Sheila Raye Charles performs at the Hard Rock Cafe earlier this month. Tiffany Probasco

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.