Ray Charles was a pioneer of soul music who’s widely considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time.

Ray Charles Robinson was born on Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. His father, a mechanic, and his mother, a sharecropper, moved the family to Greenville, Fla., when he was an infant. Charles developed glaucoma and gradually began to lose his sight; he was blind by the age of 7. His mother sent him to a state-sponsored school where he learned to read, write and arrange music in Braille. He also learned to play piano, organ, sax, clarinet and trumpet.

Charles’s mother died when he was 15, and for a year he toured the Chitlin’ Circuit in the South. He moved to Seattle at the age of 16 and met a young Quincy Jones, who would become a friend and collaborator for the rest of his life. Charles’s early playing style closely resembled the work of his two major influences: Charles Brown and Nat King Cole. But he would eventually develop his own distinctive sound.

By 1953, Charles landed a deal with Atlantic Records and had his first R&B hit single with Mess Around. A year later, his now classic song I Got a Woman reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. The song reflected an advancement of his musical style; he was no longer a Nat King Cole imitator. His fusion of gospel and R&B helped to create a new musical genre known as soul.

Charles’s biggest success was perhaps his ability to cross over into pop music, reaching No. 6 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart with his hit What’d I Say. The year 1960 brought Charles his first Grammy Award for Georgia on My Mind, followed by another for Hit the Road Jack.

His releases in the 1960s and ’70s were hit or miss, but he remained one of the most respected stars in music. In 1986, he became one of the first people inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2003, Charles had to cancel a tour for the first time in 53 years as he underwent hip replacement surgery. While that operation was successful, Charles soon learned he was suffering from liver disease. He died on June 10, 2004, at his home in Beverly Hills.

During his lifetime, Charles recorded more than 60 albums and performed more than 10,000 concerts. Although it is nearly impossible to pick a short list of essential Ray Charles records, here are five albums everyone should know.