When she first met her father, the music icon Ray Charles, at age 12, Sheila Raye embraced him with a tearful hug and spilled everything: She'd just been accepted to Juilliard, where she would train to become the next Janis Joplin, and wanted dad's blessing.
"He didn't offer any advice for the musical side of my journey. He said something about the hardships of the music industry. All he said was, 'Practice every day,' " Charles recalls from her hotel room in Salt Lake City. "My father was a caring man, but he had no idea how to be a parent. I had these preconceived notions that we would go down to the boardwalk hand in hand and talk life. That didn't happen. I didn't see him for another six months. You can imagine why. When dad was growing up in the Dirty South, black and blind, with the type of coldness he experienced, he had no people giving him love."
Speaking a few days after a Christian music concert she headlined with Jackie Evancho, Osmond family members and other singers, Charles, now 50, has put behind her a childhood (and adulthood) with a hard-shelled, mostly absentee father. She will appear Saturday at Deerfield Beach's Double Tree Hotel to promote her memoir, "Behind the Shades: Hope Beyond the Darkness," chronicling her relationship with her father and her tumultuous life. Charles says she wishes the soulful blues crooner behind "Georgia on My Mind" and "What'd I Say" were alive to see her latest accomplishment: winning an International Music and Entertainment Association award for Best Christian/Gospel Song of the Year for the single, "We Are Hope."
Becoming the gospel artist her father could admire was not simple, Charles writes in the autobiography. After recording an album with Ray at 21 ("he saw I was serious about my career"), Charles says she lost a major contract with Warner Bros. Records because of her then-manager's bad reputation ("they dropped us like a hot pancake"). She smoked crack cocaine, introduced to her by a relative, to combat depression, which snowballed into 20 years of addiction and three stints in prison.
"I had a very supernatural experience with my heavenly father on the concrete floor of the prison cell," says Charles, who has been sober since 2005. "I lost custody of all five of my children. I felt like I was the worst criminal in the world. It's been a very emotional ride."
Charles says she will sing her father's music during the book signing.
"It will be a powerful time for people to experience what God has done to my life, of love and father," she says. "I think people will be very blessed."
Sheila Raye Charles will appear from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Double Tree Hotel, 100 Fairway Drive, in Deerfield Beach. On Sunday, she will sing at 10 a.m. at Word of the Living God Ministry, 149 NW 26th Ave Pompano Beach. Admission is free. Call 954-427-7700.