Ray Charles (born Charles Raymond Offenberg, September 13, 1918, Chicago, Illinois, United States) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, vocal arranger and conductor who is best known as organizer and leader of The Ray Charles Singers. The Ray Charles Singers were featured on Perry Como’s records, radio shows and television shows for 35 years. The Ray Charles Singers are also known for a series of 30 choral record albums produced in the 1950s and 1960s for Essex, MGM, Decca and Command labels.
As a vocalist, Charles, along with Julia Rinker Miller, is known for singing the theme song to the television series Three’s Company (“Come and Knock on Our Door”). As a songwriter, Charles is best known for the choral anthem “Fifty Nifty United States,” in which he set the names of the states to music in alphabetical order. It was originally written for The Perry Como Show. He is also known for “Letters, We Get Letters,” also originally written for The Perry Como Show and later used on Late Show with David Letterman.
At the age of 94 years, he continues to serve as a musical consultant to television programs, most notably for the last 30 years on the Kennedy Center Honors. Charles is acknowledged as an authority on American popular music.
At the age of 13, Chuck Offenberg (as he was known then), won a contest to sing on the radio in Chicago. At 16, while still at Hyde Park High School, he had his own 15 minute radio program on WENR and won a vocal scholarship to the Chicago Musical College.
After graduation, he attended Central YMCA College, where he met fellow future choral director Norman Luboff, who was to become a lifelong friend. In 1936, Offenberg joined the Federal Theater show O Say Can You Sing, sharing a dressing room with the young Buddy Rich. In 1942, Offenberg, with his wife, Bernice and son, Michael, came to New York City and he started getting work, singing on the radio for Lyn Murray, Ray Bloch and other choral directors. By 1944, he was doing 10 radio shows a week. In May 1944, Chuck Offenberg changed his name to Ray Charles. It would be 10 more years until the “other” Ray Charles changed his name from “Ray Charles Robinson” to Ray Charles.