Atlantic Records: 1953–1958
Charles laid low from recording until early 1953 as Atlantic executives cleared out Charles' contract with Swingtime. Charles began recording jump blues and boogie-woogie style recordings as well as slower blues ballads where he continued to show the vocal influences of Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. "Mess Around" became Charles' first Atlantic hit in 1953 and he later had hits the following year with "It Should Have Been Me" and "Don't You Know". He also recorded the songs, "Midnight Hour" and "Sinner's Prayer". Some elements of his own vocal style showed up in "Sinner's Prayer", "Mess Around" and "Don't You Know".
Late in 1954, Charles recorded his own composition, "I Got a Woman", and the song became Charles' first number-one R&B hit in 1955 and brought him to national prominence. The elements of "I Got a Woman" included a mixture of gospel, jazz and blues elements that would later prove to be seminal in the development of rock 'n' roll and soul music. He repeated this pattern throughout 1955 continuing through 1958 with records such as "This Little Girl of Mine", "Drown in My Own Tears", "
"A Fool For You" and "The Night Time (Is the Right Time)".
While still promoting his R&B career, Charles also recorded instrumental jazz albums such as 1957's The Great Ray Charles. During this time, Charles also worked with jazz vibraphonist Milt Jackson, releasing Soul Brothers in 1958 and Soul Meeting in 1961. By 1958, Charles was not only headlining black venues such as The Apollo Theater and The Uptown Theater but also bigger venues such as The Newport Jazz Festival. It was at the
festival where he cut his first live album. In 1956, Charles recruited a young
all-female singing group named the Cookies, and reshaped them as The Raelettes.
Before then, Charles had used his wife and other musicians to back him up on
recordings such as "This Little Girl of Mine" and "Drown In My
Own Tears". The Raelettes' first recording session with Charles was on the
bluesy-gospel inflected "Leave My Woman Alone".