BY Nii Ntreh, 12:00pm February 20, 2020,

Ray Charles’ heroin addiction got him arrested in undercover drug operation

Ray Charles. Photo Credit:

The virtuoso who was Ray Charles wanted to stay behind in his room at the Sheraton-Lincoln Hotel in downtown Indianapolis after the rest of his band said they were going to listen to Aretha Franklin at a nearby club.

Charles, ever effervescent, had other plans.

The Sheraton-Lincoln had been a stopover. Charles and The Raelettes were in Indiana to play a number of concerts.

On the November night in 1961, after he had checked in at the hotel, Charles reportedly had a call from a man who had heroin to sell to the musician.

Charles was not going to say no to heroin. Whoever called probably knew that already.

Two mornings after he had bought some three-dollar capsules of heroin, Charles was visited by Indiana police.

It is said that the officers pushed their way into Charles’ room. And without a search warrant, it is believed they knew exactly where to find Charles’ narcotics.

A needle was also found, as well as some residue in the ten capsules that remained from what he bought.

Charles was dragged to the station. There was a welcoming party of journalists who wanted their story and photographers who desired a shot at capturing a photo telling the thousand-and-one words of guilt.

The visually-impaired Charles could not see his accusers but their unmistakable judgment was hard to miss. He was moved to tears in front of the many that he could not count.

He was released on bond the next day and to his band who first got wind of his arrest on the radio.

From Indianapolis, they went to Evansville for another concert. There too, the journalists were interested in Charles falling foul of the law.

The repercussion of having been caught with heroin meant that shows at which he had been expected to play were canceled. He was also supposed to be a guest on the popular Ed Sullivan show but that was not going to happen.

In early 1962, the charges against Charles were dismissed. Judge Ernie S. Burke ruled that the police had illegally searched Charles’ room.

Judge Burke also noted that the entrapment of Charles had been wrong.

Two years later, Ray Charles Robinson, singer, songwriter and pianist, was caught again in possession of heroin. Addiction had dulled the lessons of the incident in Indiana.

Charles’ addiction to heroin was as storied as his rise to legendary status.

In 2018, Quincy Jones, who had known Charles since Jones was a teenager, said in an interview:

“He (Charles) got me hooked for five months (to heroin) at 15. After we finished at the Washington Social Club and a couple of other ones, we’d all go down to Jackson Street to the Elks Club. That’s where all the bebop jam sessions were. Nobody got paid. We didn’t give a damn. When they finished playing they’d go over in the corner and they had it on their thumb. I just snuck in the line and got me a little hit.”

Charles died in 2004, undoubtedly one of the finest anyone had ever heard and seen behind a piano.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: February 20, 2020


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