29 Black Music Milestones: Ray Charles' 'Georgia' Becomes State Song

Six Key Ray Charles 80th Birthday Happenings
© The Ray Charles Foundation – Photographer: Joe Adams

Ray Charles getting dressed for a show.

While the song "Georgia On My Mind" had been around for thirty years when Ray Charles -- at the suggestion of his driver -- learned the words and recorded it in 1960, it wasn't until the piano man sang the tune that it became a hit... and the official Georgia state song.

On March 7, 1979, "Georgia On My Mind" became Georgia's state song. To celebrate the moment, Charles was invited to perform it for state legislators, their wives and children at the state capital building in Atlanta.

While others like Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson and Michael Bolton took a shot at singing the famous track, none quite matched Charles' success; Charles' version of "Georgia," shot to No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts and No. 3 on the R&B charts. "Georgia" would go on to become the most associated song with Charles' music career, which spanned 55 years until his untimely death in 2004.