Singing a Different Tune: Daughter of R&B Legend Visits Winnsboro

Sheila Ray Charles (right), the daughter of legendary singer Ray Charles, and her husband Tony Steptoe (left) visited the Rev. Jimmy Burroughs’ (center, back) congregation Sunday at Christ Central Community Center at the request of her young fan Bowen Kelly (front).

WINNSBORO – Sheila Ray Charles, the daughter of legendary singer Ray Charles, was in Winnsboro Sunday morning spreading her message of redemption and singing sweet songs of inspiration. The occasion was the morning worship service at Christ Central Community Center where the Rev. Jimmy Burroughs and his congregation are best known for their ministry to the poor and downtrodden.

Although Charles was born the daughter of fame and fortune, the life of the poor and downtrodden was one she came to know firsthand. And it was that connection that drew her to visit the church after a young member of the congregation, seventh-grader Bowen Kelly of Ridgeway, heard her speak on an earlier occasion and made acquaintance with Charles through her Facebook page. Intrigued by Charles’ triumph over a myriad of demons and adversities, Bowen invited Charles to visit Winnsboro and share her story with the Christ Central congregation. To Bowen’s utter surprise, she did – with little fanfare and with the humble heart of a servant.

Charles’ message was powerful as she recounted to the congregation, in vivid details, her descent at an early age into the depths of alcohol, drugs and worse. The descent, she said, lasted for more than 22 years, until she found redemption through her faith in God.

Charles related how she was the victim of sexual abuse during her childhood and, as a result, struggled to get her life in order as a young woman, falling into dependency on crack cocaine. Eventually, she lost custody of her five children. Not even her famous father was able to save her from self-destruction. She was in and out of prison for six years before she found freedom from the life she was living. Charles said it was in prison that she began to spend time praying and reading the Bible.

Today, the 49-year-old Charles travels with her husband, Tony Steptoe, spreading the gospel at churches throughout the country. During the last month, the couple has driven more than 10,000 miles in their quest to use their story to bring peace to others who are suffering from misdirected lives. Their message is made real by their personal experiences. Charles and her husband share a common background of spending time in prison. Steptoe spent 11 years in prison and Charles made three trips to the penitentiary for larceny and drug offenses. But that life is behind them now. Steptoe, who refers to Charles as his ‘queen,’ said he is certain that the path they are on now is one that has been ordained by God.

“At one point,” Charles said, “I realized I had to give all of my shame, pain and un-forgiveness to God and forgive myself.”

“It was a phenomenal service that touched the lives of everyone here,” Burroughs said. “A lot of people can relate to the issues in her testimony.”

Through her devotion to God and her faith, Charles said her life is on the right track now. With sobriety, Charles has earned a new, loving relationship with her children. During her address to the congregation, she talked about leaning on God for everything and in every aspect of her life. Jokingly, she said her children ask her from time to time, “Mom, do you need to involve Jesus in everything?” to which she replies a devout, “Yes!”

After the service, members of the congregation visited with Charles and Steptoe for more than an hour, building a friendship with her. Charles expressed how impressed she was with the crowd’s spiritual presence.

“This church is one that allows God to flow,” Charles told the crowd before departing for another town and another church. “I’m so honored and blessed to have been a part of it.”