Ray Charles statue.

Happy Ray Charles in Bronze

Field review by the editors.

Greenville, Florida

Don't get Elesta Pritchett started on the subject of Albany, Georgia.

Albany claims that Ray Charles -- the late, great blind musician, famous for his song Georgia On My Mind -- is its "native son." It even unveiled a fancy musical statue of Ray to cement his connection to the city.

But that statue didn't arrive until almost two years after the Ray Charles statue in Greenville.

Greenville got there first because of Elesta Pritchett. She was born in 1930, only a few weeks ahead of Ray, lived only a couple houses away from his family, and eventually became the mayor of the town -- all in Florida, not Georgia.

"My momma said that his momma wasn't anything but a child when she was pregnant with him," said Elesta. "It was a scandal here in Greenville." Ray's father, who was also his half-uncle, had a sister who lived a hundred miles north in Albany, Georgia. She came to Greenville and took Ray's pregnant mother away.

A few weeks later Ray's mom returned with her new baby. "Maybe a month," said Elesta. "That's all the Georgia he had in him." (Elesta added that Ray Charles had no birth certificate, so he could have been born anywhere.)

Ray Charles statue.

Ray Charles's long history in Greenville is well-documented. "Everybody knew R.C.," said Elesta. She told us about the time Ray taught her poker with his braille playing cards. Once, she said, she came upon Ray walking along a dirt path, slapping away on his legs, lost in music that was only in his head. "He could go all over Greenville, all by himself." Ray lived in town until he was seven, and returned for frequent visits from his school for the blind in St. Augustine (also in Florida) until he was 15, when his mother died.

Ray Charles statue.

When Ray died in 2004, Mayor Pritchett knew she had to do something to make people aware of his childhood in Greenville. As a small town with limited resources, Greenville's prospects were grim. But Elesta was persistent, and Florida rallied to the cause. The state provided some money, and the sculpting team of Bradley Cooley and Brad Cooley Jr. in nearby Lamont offered to create a Ray Charles statue for free. It was unveiled in Greenville's park on February 18, 2006.

"Oooh! What really struck me was that foot of his, like he was dancing," said Elesta of the statue. "That's him. When he was playing he'd be all into it and that foot of his would be up off the pedal."

Elesta said it would be wrong to think of Greenville's Ray Charles statue as part of a competition with Albany, because Albany cannot compete with Greenville.

"This is Ray Charles's home. Greenville. He walked these sand roads with no shoes on," said Elesta. "The people here now, the younger generation, I wanted them to know."

Happy Ray Charles in Bronze

Address:
US Hwy 221/90, Greenville, FL
Directions:
I-10 exit 241. Drive north on US Hwy 221 for 2.5 miles. Cross the train tracks and immediately turn left onto N. Grand Ave. Drive two blocks. Turn right onto Broad St. and park in the lot on the left. You'll see the statue in the park, next to the lake.
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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