Albany, Georgia may claim musician Ray Charles as a “native son,” and may even have a plaza and statue to showcase that claim, but Greenville, Florida was his real childhood home.
The tiny town of Greenville (population less than a thousand), in north Florida is where Ray’s mother Aretha was from. She had traveled to Albany, Georgia while pregnant with Ray, and it’s true that he was born there. But life in Albany was short-lived, and after only a month they returned to Greenville. “R.C.,” as he was known by childhood friends, grew up in a small house on what is now called Ray Charles Avenue. Greenville was R.C.’s home until age 7, when he was sent to The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine. He made frequent visits back to Greenville, until Aretha’s death when he was only 15.
The Ray Charles memorial, unveiled in 2006 and consisting of a dedication plaque and bronze statue in a small plaza, sits alongside a pond in Haffye Hays Park in the center of town. The statue was carved, free of charge, by locals Bradley Cooley and Brad Cooley Jr.
Just about half a mile from the memorial is Charles’ childhood home at 443 SW Ray Charles Avenue. Saved from demolition in 2006, the small house was opened as an attraction in 2009, and visitors can call City Hall for a tour of the inside. If you’re lucky your tour guide will be Elesta Pritchett, Mayor of Greenville and R.C.’s childhood friend.
Know Before You Go
Off US Hwy 221/90, in Haffye Hays Park