Ray Charles Robinson had two mothers. His biological mother, Aretha Williams, was portrayed in the film, but there was also his father’s first wife, Mary Jane Robinson. Both women were huge influences on him as a child. As David Ritz, co-author of Ray Charles’ 1978 autobiography Brother Ray, shared in a Slate article, “After her 6-year-old son went blind, Aretha encouraged his independence while Mary Jane indulged him. For the rest of his life, Ray was as confident as he was self-indulgent.”
The exact reasons why “Ray” didn’t include both women in the film remains a mystery, although it’s not entirely surprising. Attempting to condense decades into one biopic requires eliminating irrelevant characters and streamlining events into a tight narrative for audiences to follow. Biopics are notorious for using creative liberties to simplify storylines, increase drama, and create a satisfying narrative arc for the central character. It is also possible that Charles’ second mother was eliminated due to the circumstances of his birth.
Mary Jane and Bailey Robinson took in Aretha as an orphaned teenager. Aretha soon became pregnant with her foster father’s child. Due to the scandal this pregnancy caused in her community, Aretha was turned away and gave birth to Ray on September 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia. The Robinsons separated after Ray was born and Bailey was not involved in raising his son. Aretha wanted her son to be independent despite being blinded at the age of seven from undiagnosed glaucoma, as documented by Irene Earls in her book Young Musicians in World History.