Sheila Raye Charles is an author, speaker, award winner, entrepreneur, singer-songwriter of several genres including contemporary Gospel music.
By Linda Bock TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Sheila Raye Charles, daughter of legendary Ray Charles, has been to hell and back. Along the way, she found God, her life and a ministry.
She survived sexual abuse as a child, a 20-year addiction to crack cocaine, losing custody of her five children she had with four different men, physical violence, three stints in federal prison, a “hard-shelled” famous father who fathered 12 children with nine different women and the trauma of meeting siblings she never knew she had at her father’s funeral.
“The more I speak about it,” Ms. Charles said, “the freer I get.”
Ms. Charles said when she finally surrendered to God’s will, she was at her lowest point in a federal prison.
Following her marriage to Michael “Tony” Steptoe in 2010, the couple have been sharing the message through One Way Up Prison Ministry. Ms. Charles said she enjoys relaying the message of God’s love with all ages, but she especially enjoys meeting and sharing with troubled teens and teens who have been incarcerated, because they know she understands what they are going through. “They open their hearts to me,” Ms. Charles said.
Ms. Charles said this area has a strong hold on her heart, and she is looking forward to performing some of her late father’s hit songs and her own original songs, as well as sharing her own life story. “I cried out to God and God answered my cry,” Ms. Charles said. “And I’ve never truly been the same.”
Ms. Charles said she will perform her renditions of some of her father’s best-known songs, including “Hit The Road Jack,” “Georgia” and “Unchain My Heart,” and a love song she wrote to God when she was at her lowest point in prison, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”
After she sings, Ms. Charles said she will share her life story in an effort to inspire and encourage others who might be struggling.
“I’m pretty radical. I’m very excited about God. I’m in love with God,” Ms. Charles said. “My persona is full of love and joy and gratefulness. I am so grateful I made it through.”
Ms. Charles, 49, did not meet her own father until she was 14. He died in 2004, the same year the movie about his extraordinary life came out, starring Jamie Foxx.
“It was a very emotional time for me,” Ms. Charles said. In her private life, she goes by Sheila Robinson. She said she watched the movie — which opened up his life to the world — “over and over and over again,” and said, “Absolutely we learned a lot about him. My father was very hard-shelled.”
Ms. Charles said her audiences range from the very young to 90, and it is crazy how the name Ray Charles and his music still resonate with people.
“From young to old, they remember Ray.” Ms. Charles said.
As her life’s journey continues, Ms. Charles said she knows God is not done with her yet.
“God made me a promise that I will be reunited with my children,” Ms. Charles said. Two of her five children were legally adopted, and the other three grew up in foster care. She has four daughters and a son. She has re-established a relationship with her oldest daughters, and with two other daughters through court orders, and is praying for the day she might be reunited with the others.
Her One Way Up Ministry has three goals: to bring a message of hope and love to society, to support the development of tools and resources for inmates re-entering society, and to raise awareness for prison mentoring and ministry. She and her husband have visited dozens of prisons and churches encouraging others to develop their own relationships with God.
“We work with recovery groups,” Ms. Charles said. “We like to take advantage of the Ray Charles name because people will want to come and see what it’s all about.”
Sheila Raye Charles creates her own distinct sound while delivering her intensely inspiring message of hope and love. As a talented singer/songwriter, she has found her voice in acoustic jazz and R & B with lyrics that deliver the personal journey of her own life and her relationship with her legendary father, Ray Charles. At age 19, with great courage, she defied her father’s wishes and pursued music. Demonstrating her commitment and her talent, her father actually brought her and her band into his studio and personally produced several songs. Through a series of life changing events, her music career waned as she gathered a lifetime of experiences which, today, give great meaning and countenance to her music.
Today, Charles is called upon to provide skin tingling renditions of her father’s best known songs from America the Beautiful to Hit The Road Jack to Georgia from jazz festivals to embassy parties to clubs and places of worship. As an entertaining and engaging vocalist, Charles is able to inspire her audiences with stories of her life challenges of drug addiction and recovery, of her spiritual journey and personal growth while at the same time delivering meaty, life giving music. With the publication of her life story, Behind the Shades, Charles provides insight into her life and her path to God.
Charles recently became an artist on the Conquer Entertainment Platform. This decision provides access to her music in digital download format today. In the future the platform will provide numerous ways for her to be of service to her fans. Check it out at http://www.getconquer.com/SheilaRayeCharles