Growing up in a small farming community in Colorado, Ray could not imagine the path his life would take. At age 85, he is many things—a veteran, an artist, an educator, and an advocate for the Chicano community. And most recently, he’s added “professionally recorded country western musician” to that list.
Ray grew up in a family of 13 and recalled that although they worked hard, they often struggled to make ends meet. As a child, he enjoyed painting and drawing, but there was not much time for that, as he often worked alongside his parents in the fields, helping them harvest onions, potatoes, and carrots.
“We had to eat,” Ray said. “I was maybe nine years old when I started working, too.”
Ray found that he could help support his family by shining shoes, sometimes inside local bars, where he would listen to country western music while working. That’s where his love of country music began.
Ray realized he did not have many opportunities at home, so he searched for something more. “In my hometown, there was nothing to do but join the Marines, go to jail, or be poor,” he explained.
So, Ray made his choice. When he was only 17 years old, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He bravely served his country for eight years, spending much of his time in Japan and serving during the Korean War and Cold War.
When he returned from his service in 1962, Ray used the GI bill to attend art school. He quickly discovered that he was talented in many mediums. exploring everything from three-dimensional art to watercolor and acrylic painting. After graduating from the Rocky Mountain School of Art, Ray helped found the multi-institutional Auraria Campus where he taught art, Southwest history, and art history.
As his passion and skills grew, Ray became a well-known Chicano artist in the region, receiving coverage in local newspapers and displaying his work in galleries and collections in Denver, Taos, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and California.
As his artistic career evolved, Ray used his platform as a way to give back to the Chicano and military communities close to his heart. In 1970, Ray conducted a study to improve the federal food stamp program. He has also advocated for funds to expand artists’ awareness of Mexican culture and history. And in 2006, Ray honored Marines who have served and fallen in wars with a mural painted in downtown Denver.
But Ray’s creativity does not stop there—he also loves music. He estimates that over the years, he’s written over 2,000 original songs. That’s because Ray believes that music has the power to connect people from all walks of life. In the past, Ray worked with a local group Los 5 Diamonds to record some of his original songs in Spanish, but he dreamed of expanding his audience and recording a country music song.
“I have never recorded in English,” he said. “The doors for Chicano artists in country music were closed. I never had an opportunity to do it, or the means.”
When we heard Ray’s story, Wish of a Lifetime was thrilled to have the chance to honor Ray’s accomplishments while helping him fulfill a lifelong dream. And we knew just the place to do it!
Accompanied by his daughter Veronica, Ray traveled to Nashville, the country music capital of the world. Ray could feel the energy around him. The streets were buzzing, and there was music in the air on every corner.
Stepping into the recording studio, Ray made everyone laugh when he introduced himself by saying, “Hello, I’m not Johnny Cash.” And then the magic began. He chose to record something very dear to his heart— a song over 40 years in the making.
Titled “Why Can’t I Be Your Miracle,” Ray’s song captures the pain and suffering cancer brings. Ray is a cancer survivor and has lost two adult children and his grandmother to the disease.
“It’s very heartbreaking and emotional when you lose one of your kids,” he shared. “I don’t even know how to explain it. It hurts a lot; they’re gone forever.”
Ray hopes his song can be used to raise cancer awareness and advocate for future research. And most of all, he hopes it will resonate with those who have also experienced the pain of losing a loved one to cancer.
Veronica expressed how meaningful this experience was for them both. “This is his story, his dream come true,” she said. “I’m proud of him.”
After leaving the recording studio, Ray gave us the same advice he has given all of his students throughout the years—many of whom have continued to pursue art beyond his classroom.
“The only way to get ahead is to work at it and dedicate yourself to what you’re doing,” he said. “I believe I have done that all my life. I came out of the fields from Southern CO and worked my way up to teaching, and then doing my own art—I’ve been pretty active all of my life.”
Ray’s story is proof of that. He has never let anything limit his dreams and goals, a reminder to all of us, at every age, to keep dreaming.
“Dedicate yourself to something, follow it, and complete it. It’s worth the accomplishment. Look at me now!”
Listen to Ray’s Full Song
Click below to listen to Ray’s original country western song.
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