PALMETTO -- Living with the virtual absence of her famous father, Ray Charles, led Sheila Raye Charles to a ministry of conscious presence, singing and preaching about the power of faith and recovery from drug addiction.
She will be in Manatee County next week, with her first stop at 11 a.m. Sunday at Eternity Temple First Born Church, 716 29th St. E., Palmetto.
After 20 years of addiction, "when I hit bottom and I was in federal prison for the third time, I had lost custody of all my babies and I ended up on a concrete floor screaming for my God. My desire to live wasn't there any more," Charles said.
"God answered my prayer, my cry out to him, in a supernatural way, audibly in the room and in my heart and inside of me, and said, 'If you want to die from this life of pain, lay your life down from me to receive this love from me.' That is the true essence of what you're trying to get back to."
Other Manatee locations where Charles will appear include Celebrate Recovery, a Bible-based Christian program, at 7 p.m. May 2 at First Presbyterian Church, 410 15th St. W., Bradenton; 6 p.m. May 3 at Bayside Community Church, 15800 State Road 64 E., Bradenton. There is no charge to attend, but a free will offering will be collected.
"She comes across as so sincere and talented and transparent as she discloses her testimony," said David Wollard, ministry leader for Celebrate Recovery at Bayside. "People like that can be so inspiring for people who are coming through any kind of a struggle in their life."
With the renowned singer that she barely knew as a father figure and an alcoholic mother at home, Charles felt deep abandonment on a daily basis and a spiritual longing for the "supernatural relationship" with her parents that she said she believes is God-given.
"I used to save my dad's orange peels because he touched them. My mom used to say, 'You're nuts. You have his blood running through you. You have as much of him as you can get. You're his seed,' but I just wanted to be close to him," Charles said.
"I was the only child my dad produced and recorded with in his studio. But that 'Father Knows Best' is the relationship I wanted with my father and never got," she said. "We pretty much have the same story."
Ray Charles was orphaned, getting most of his education at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.
"He did the best that he could with the knowledge he had as a parent, but we're talking about a man who lost both his parents at an early age and was raised by an institution in the dirty South," his daughter said. "It scares me what could have happened to this young man, and he became one of the best musicians who ever lived." He had 13 children.
Her mother, Sandra Jean Betts, "tried very hard to do the job, but she had her own demons," said Charles, who wasn't aware of who her father was until she was 12 years old.
Today Charles works with youth in her ministry because, "if I would have had an opportunity to rethink the decisions that I made at a younger age, I would have had a chance to escape the things I did. It seems so harmless at the time, but whenever there was something that was hurting me when I was 13 or 14, I would go drink a beer or smoke a joint or go get another boyfriend. It was real easy to reach for a crack pipe. It was first nature."
Now engaged in "singamony," what she calls singing and preaching all at the same time, Charles said she believes the true essence of what people need to get back to is that "we all came from God. You still don't have the love from your parents until you become one in your consciousness from God. You're always one with him, but he's reconciled us with him through his Son.
"It's knowing consciously to understand what is already available. I've already been OK and I didn't need any other human being to validify me as a human being. I was created whole."