Ray Charles on Smithsonian’s Mind

National Museum of American History Receives Items from Career of Legendary Artist
September 20, 2005
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History received a braille keyboard, sunglasses, chess set, costumes and other memorabilia reflecting the storied career of musician Ray Charles in a special ceremony today, along with items from his long-time friend and business manager Joe Adams. These objects tell the story of Charles’ music career and enhance the museum’s collection of objects illustrating how people contend with their disabilities—in this case blindness. A selection from the donation will go on view at the museum on Oct. 28. Among the items from Charles’ estate are a Yamaha KX 88 keyboard, marked in braille, that he used during concert tours in the 1980s and 1990s; three costumes worn onstage; braille editions of popular magazines; a chess set for the blind, a traveling bathroom kit; and a pair of his signature Ray-Ban sunglasses. Adams will donate photographs from his own career, including scripts, casting materials and news clips from the motion picture “The Manchurian Candidate” and the Broadway show “Jamaica”; two costumes he wore onstage when introducing Charles; and various other ephemera from Charles and Adams collaborations. “Ray Charles’ life and career are testaments to the enduring value of the American dream; that anyone from any background and with any disability can overcome obstacles and lead a successful life,” said museum director Brent D. Glass. “These objects are important20additions to the museum’s collections, and we are honored to have them.” One of America’s best-loved musicians, Charles was born Sept. 23, 1930 in Georgia, a state he later immortalized with his hit recording of the song “Georgia On My Mind.” Left completely blind from glaucoma by the age of seven, Charles studied at a special school for the deaf and blind and decided to become a musician. After his groundbreaking recording for Atlantic Records, “I Got A Woman,” Charles found a wide audience for his unique sound that fused gospel with R&B. In 1960 he switched labels to ABC Records and became among the first artists to negotiate the right to own his own masters. It was during this period that Charles recorded some of his biggest hits, including “Georgia On My Mind,” “Unchain My Heart” and “Hit the Road, Jack.” In 1962, he and Adams formed their own label, RPM International, where he continued to produce hits in the genres of R&B, soul, blues, jazz, country, rock and pop. During a career spanning more than five decades, Charles won 21 Grammy Awards, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1976), was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, received the National Medal of Arts and many other honors. The donation falls two days before what would have been Charles’ 75th birthday; he died in June 2004. Yesterday, Sept. 20, Rhino Entertainment released a special 75th birthday tribute, “Genius and Friends,” a collection of 14 new and previously unreleased superstar duets recorded during the 1990s. Simultaneously, Rhino also published a special package, “Pure Genius-The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959),” featuring almost nine hours of favorites and previously unreleased materials on seven CDs and a bonus DVD. The National Museum of American History has a long tradition of collections, exhibitions and public programs dedicated to telling the story of America’s music. The museum is home to 100,000 pages of Duke Ellington’s unpublished music; costumes belonging to Ella Fitzgerald, Celia Cruz, Carol Channing and Bobby Short; and instruments used by Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Tito Puente and Herbie Hancock. In April 2002 the museum initiated Jazz Appreciation Month, an annual national and international celebration of jazz every April. Visitors to the museum since May 2005 have enjoyed the exhibition “¡Azúcar! The Life and Music of Celia Cruz,” which celebrates the Queen of Salsa and opening in 2006 will be “Honky Tonk: Country Music Photos by Henry Hornstein,” a photography exhibition that looks at the early years of country music and some of its most legendary artists. The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage through exhibitions and public programs about social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit the museum's Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu.