Ray is a 2004 American biographical musical drama film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles.[2] The independently produced film was co-produced and directed by Taylor Hackford, and written by James L. White from a story by Hackford and White. It stars Jamie Foxx in the title role, along with Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff and Regina King in supporting roles. Along with Hackford, the film was also produced by Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin and Karen Baldwin.

It was released on October 29, 2004, by Universal Pictures. It received positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for Foxx’s performance. It was also a commercial success, grossing $124.7 million worldwide against a production budget of $40 million.

Ray received many accolades and nominations and was nominated twice at the 77th Academy Awards. For his performance, Foxx won the Academy Award for Best Actor as well as the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, and Critics’ Choice, becoming the second actor to win all five major lead actor awards for the same performance, and the only one to win the Golden Globe in the Musical or Comedy category, rather than in Drama.

Charles had planned to attend a screening of the completed film but died of liver disease in June 2004, months prior to the premiere.[3]


Ray Charles is raised by his independent single mother, Aretha Robinson in poverty, but he manages to find solace in music, eventually learning how to play the piano. As Ray plays with his younger brother George one day, George accidentally slips into their mother’s full washbasin and drowns to death. Ray feels distraught over his brother’s death, and begins to develop vision problems soon afterward. By age seven, he has become completely blind. Aretha teaches him to be independent despite his condition, and eventually, she sends Ray to a school for the deaf and blind.

In 1946, Ray joins a white country band who make him wear sunglasses to hide his damaged eyes from audiences. In 1948, Ray travels to Seattle, Washington where he uses his piano skills to get a job playing for a nightclub band. The club’s owner soon begins to exploit Ray, demanding sexual favors and controlling his money and career. After discovering that he is being lied to and stolen from, Ray leaves the band.

As Ray continues to travel and gain fame with his music, he is discovered by Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records. Ray performs Ertegun’s song, “Mess Around”, and becomes his first hit.

Ray later meets Della Bea, a preacher’s daughter. He falls in love with her, and the two get married. Della is unhappy about Ray mixing gospel with his music, but acknowledges his talent.

Ray continues to gain fame with his songs “I Got a Woman” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So”, and meets up with Mary Anne Fisher, a singer. On a trip home, Della finds Ray’s drug kit in his shaving bag, demanding him to stop taking drugs. Ray refuses, and walks out on a pregnant Della. Ray and Mary Anne begin an affair. As Ray’s popularity grows, Ray hires a girl trio to become “The Raylettes”, and immediately falls for Margie, the lead singer. When the two begin an affair, a jealous Mary Anne leaves him to start a solo career.

A few years later, Ray’s band finishes early while doing a set. The owner of the club demands Ray to fill the twenty-minute slot he has left, and Ray performs “What’d I Say” on the spot. During the 1960s, Ray’s popularity rises, and he moves his family to Los Angeles before signing a better contract with ABC Records. A year later, Ray continues to experiment with his music, and incorporates classical and country into his sound, writing hits such as “Georgia on My Mind”. Ray also records “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, for which he receives a standing ovation at a concert.

Later, Margie gets sick while they rest in their hotel room. They discover that she is pregnant, and she demands that Ray leaves Della and his children; he refuses, upsetting her. Ray then writes “Hit the Road Jack” which has a solo by Margie. With her newfound recognition, Margie leaves the Raylettes to embark on a solo career.

In 1961, Ray goes to Augusta, Georgia, to play a concert, and encounters civil rights protests. Ray supports the protests by saying that he will not play if the black concertgoers have to sit in the balcony, and cancels the concert when those in charge refuse his demands; he later ends up being banned from playing in the state of Georgia. Later, Ray’s hotel room is raided by the police, who claim that they are acting on an anonymous tip that he has drugs in the room. Although heroin is found and Ray is charged with possession, he gets off on a legal technicality because the police did not have a search warrant. During a gathering, Ray is informed that Margie has died from a drug overdose.

Ray and Della later move into a new house in Beverly Hills with their children, but Della is uneasy in their new home. In 1965, Ray is arrested for possession of heroin following a concert in Canada. His record company has trouble getting him out of his legal issues, and a judge sentences Ray to go to a rehabilitation clinic. Della and Ray argue about the sentencing, and he tries to justify his addiction using his past traumas, but Della dismisses his excuses and warns him that he is ultimately going to lose his music if he continues to run afoul with substance abuse. Guilty, Ray checks into to the clinic, where he suffers from withdrawal and vivid nightmares. One evening, Ray has a conversation with his deceased mother, who praises him for becoming strong and successful, but chastises him for letting his addictions cripple him. His brother George also appears, telling Ray that he doesn’t blame him for his death. Reformed, Ray promises to kick his habit and never be crippled by anything again.

By 1979, Ray has permanently quit heroin and receives his proudest accomplishment: the state of Georgia officially apologizes to him and makes “Georgia On My Mind” the official state song. Ray, Della, and their three grown sons are applauded as Ray performs the song before a live audience.

In the epilogue, Ray continues to have a long and successful career and legacy before dying of liver failure in 2004.


  • Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles
    • C. J. Sanders as Young Ray Robinson
  • Kerry Washington as Della Bea Robinson
  • Clifton Powell as Jeff Brown
  • Aunjanue Ellis as Mary Ann Fisher
  • Harry Lennix as Joe Adams
  • Terrence Howard as Gossie McKee
  • Larenz Tate as Quincy Jones
  • Bokeem Woodbine as Fathead Newman
  • Sharon Warren as Aretha Robinson
  • Curtis Armstrong as Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records
  • Richard Schiff as Jerry Wexler
  • Wendell Pierce as Wilbur Brassfield, manager
  • Chris Thomas King as Lowell Fulson
  • David Krumholtz as Milt Shaw
  • Kurt Fuller as Sam Clark
  • Warwick Davis as Oberon
  • Patrick Bauchau as Dr. Hacker
  • Robert Wisdom as Jack Lauderdale of Swing Time Records
  • Denise Dowse as Marlene Andre
  • Regina King as Margie Hendricks
  • Rick Gomez as Tom Dowd


The film’s production was entirely financed by Philip Anschutz, through his Bristol Bay Productions company. Taylor Hackford said in a DVD bonus feature that it took 15 years to make the film; or more specifically, as he later clarified in the liner notes of the soundtrack album, this is how long it took him to secure the financing. It was made on a budget of $40 million.

Charles was given a Braille copy of the film’s original script; he objected only to a scene showing him taking up piano grudgingly, and a scene implying that Charles had shown mistress and lead “Raelette” Margie Hendricks how to shoot heroin.[3]

Denzel Washington was offered to play the title role, but he passed on the project.[4] As stated in the DVD commentary, Foxx does not sing as Charles with exception to cover versions Charles performs in his earlier years. Kanye West and Ludacris have since made songs with Foxx singing as Charles in their songs “Gold Digger” and “Georgia”, respectively.

Hackford stated in the DVD commentary that while Anschutz said the film would be made, he demanded that it be PG-13, and this caused him to walk away from the film five times. Because of Charles and Ahmet Ertegun asked him to make the movie, he agreed to do the film as a PG-13 rating. The film was rated PG-13 for “depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements”.

In the DVD commentary, Hackford stated that no studio was interested in backing the movie. After it was shot independently, Universal Pictures stepped in to distribute it. Part of the reason Universal Pictures released it was because one of its executives used to hitchhike to Ray Charles concerts.[4]

The film’s score was composed by Craig Armstrong. Ray debuted at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival.



Box office

Ray was released in theaters on October 29, 2004. The film went on to become a box-office hit, earning $75 million in the U.S. with an additional $50 million internationally, bringing its worldwide gross to $125 million.[1]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 80{ae90547d17d4d74b17007ee836a04674fd006933c139011dc78eb03c100070a7} based on 206 reviews, with an average rating of 7.30/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “An engrossing and energetic portrait of a great musician’s achievements and foibles, Ray is anchored by Jamie Foxx’s stunning performance as Ray Charles.”[5] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.[6] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a rare “A+” grade.[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: “The movie would be worth seeing simply for the sound of the music and the sight of Jamie Foxx performing it. That it looks deeper and gives us a sense of the man himself is what makes it special.” Ebert gave it a full 4 out of 4 stars.[8] Richard Corliss of Time praised the cast, saying “If there were an Oscar for ensemble acting, Ray would win in a stroll.”[9] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote: “Jamie Foxx gets so far inside the man and his music that he and Ray Charles seem to breathe as one.”[10]

According to music critic Robert Christgau, “Foxx does the impossible—radiates something approaching the charisma of the artist he’s portraying… that’s the only time an actor has ever brought a pop icon fully to life on-screen.”[11]


Related projects

In the wake of his performance as Charles in the film, Foxx featured on hip-hop songs that sampled Charles’ songs:

  • Georgia by Ludacris also featuring Field Mob, which samples Georgia on My Mind.
  • Gold Digger by Kanye West, which samples I Got a Woman.

Differences from noted events

The film’s credits state that Ray is based on true events, but includes some characters, names, locations, and events which have been changed and others which have been “fictionalized for dramatization purposes.” Examples of the fictionalized scenes include:

  • The film’s portrayal of Charles’ brother George’s death in 1935 shows him drowning in a metal tub after Ray doesn’t attempt to rescue him because he assumes he is just playing; Ray’s mother then discovers George drowning when calling the boys in for dinner. Though George did drown in a metal tub, Ray did try to pull him out, but was unable to do so due to George’s large body weight;[12] Ray then ran inside to tell his mother what happened.[12]
  • Throughout the film, it is suggested that Ray’s depression and heroin addiction were fueled by nervous breakdowns he had over the deaths of both George and his mother, as well as his blindness. In reality, the death of his mother did give him a nervous breakdown and was thought to be a leading cause of his depression,[13] but the death of George and his blindness did not lead to nervous breakdowns.[13]
  • It is true that Charles kicked his heroin addiction after undergoing treatment in a psychiatric hospital during 1965, as stated towards the end of the film, but it is not mentioned that he would often use gin and marijuana as substitutes for heroin throughout much of the remaining years of his life.[13][14]
  • In the scene in which “What’d I Say” is being played, Charles is depicted as playing a Fender Rhodes electric piano, but in reality, he used a Wurlitzer electric piano on the original recording and began using it on tour in 1956, because he didn’t trust the tuning and quality of the pianos provided to him at every venue.[15]
  • In the film, when his backing singer and mistress Margie Hendricks informs Ray she is pregnant with his child, Ray suggests she should have an abortion, out of loyalty to Della; Margie decides to keep the baby and soon leaves Ray to pursue a separate singing career after he refuses to abandon his family, move in with her and welcome the baby into his life. In reality, Hendricks did conceive a child with Charles and abandoned him after he refused to leave Della, but Charles never asked her to have an abortion, and welcomed any child he conceived, whether from Della or any mistress, into his personal life.[14]
  • In the film Margie leaves the Raelettes in 1961, but in reality she was fired from the group by Ray in 1964 after a heated argument.[16]
  • In the scene in which Charles is about to enter a segregated music hall in Augusta, Georgia, in 1961, a group of civil rights activists protesting just outside the hall successfully persuade him not to perform; Charles then declares that he will no longer perform in segregated public facilities and in response, the Georgia state legislature passes a resolution banning Charles from ever performing again in the state. In reality, a group of civil rights activists did successfully persuade Charles to reject this invitation, but the advice came in the form of a telegram rather than a street protest;[14] Charles also did make up for the gig later, and was never banned from performing in Georgia and still accepted invitations to perform at segregated public facilities.[14]
  • In the film, Margie Hendricks dies in 1965. However in reality she died on July 14, 1973 but, no official cause of death was determined because an autopsy was not performed.[17]
  • During the final scene in the film, when Charles’ version of “Georgia on My Mind” becomes Georgia’s state song, Charles is congratulated by his wife Della, and a resolution is also passed to lift the lifetime ban he had received in 1961 after he declared he would no longer perform at segregated public facilities. In reality, by the time “Georgia on My Mind” became Georgia’s state song in 1979, Charles and Della had already divorced, so she wasn’t present when Charles performed at the Georgia State Legislature;[14] and since he had never been banned from performing in Georgia in the first place, no such resolution was ever passed.[14]

  • Ray at IMDb
  • Ray at the TCM Movie Database
  • Ray at AllMovie

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