American Biography (page 3 of 5)

American Biography (page 3 of 5)

Treasures of American History

Ray Charles’s Tuxedo, 2002

The “father of soul music” wore this sequined tuxedo during a 2002 concert in Rome.

Born into poverty and blinded by glaucoma at age seven, Ray Charles overcame great obstacles to gain worldwide acclaim as a singer, composer, and pianist. His emotive delivery and distinctive gravelly voice, together with his genius for crossing musical genres, produced many memorable hits, from rollicking soul tunes and country ballads to his celebrated rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

Lewis Latimer Drawing, 1880

Electricity pioneer Lewis Latimer drew this component of an arc lamp, an early type of electric light, for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company in 1880.

The son of escaped slaves and a Civil War veteran at age sixteen, Latimer trained himself as a draftsman. His technical and artistic skills earned him jobs with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, among others. An inventor in his own right, Latimer received numerous patents and was a renowned industry expert on incandescent lighting.



Cornet associated with Louis Armstrong, around 1913

Louis Armstrong received his first music lessons as a young inmate at the New Orleans Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. After his release he continued to study music and reputedly received lessons on this cornet.

Armstrong first came to national prominence in 1920s Chicago. Through his remarkable sense of swing and his brilliant improvisations as a trumpeter and singer, he revolutionized jazz—transforming it from ensemble music into a soloist’s art. Known for his humanitarianism, “Ambassador Satch” brought jazz to audiences around the globe.