The Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles

“I never wanted to be famous. I only wanted to be great.”—Ray Charles


Ray Charles "The Genius" courtesy Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Ray Charles “The Genius” courtesy Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Known as “The Genius,” Ray Charles (1930–2004) was one of the most innovative and influential musicians of the 20th century, creating such groundbreaking hits as “Georgia On My Mind,” “Unchain My Heart” and “Hit the Road, Jack.” His musical talent and flair for performance made him an icon, but his ability to overcome the odds—blindness, poverty and segregation—makes his story even more compelling. He crossed and combined genres, and his career spanned more than five decades; he won numerous Grammys and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The National Museum of American History is showcasing Charles’ life and his impact through June 30 with the display “Ray Charles: ‘The Genius.’” It features his signature Ray-Ban sunglasses; a keyboard MIDI controller, sheet music for “Georgia on My Mind”; tuxedos worn during performances in the 1990s; braille editions of Reader’s Digest and Playboy; and concert programs. The objects were donated by Charles’ longtime business manager and emcee Joe Adams in a ceremony Sept. 21, 2005, two days before what would have been Charles’ 75th birthday.

Ray Charles is also celebrated with the concert “Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles: In Performance at the White House” series Feb. 24. The program includes tribute performances by Yolanda Adams, Leon Bridges, Andra Day, Anthony Hamilton, Brittany Howard, Demi Lovato, Sam Moore, Jussie Smollett, The Band Perry and Usher with Rickey Minor as executive music director. “Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles: In Performance at the White House” will be broadcast Friday, February 26, 2016 at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide (locally on WETA at 9:00 p.m. and on MPT at 10:00 p.m.) This collaboration with The White House, PBS, and other partners is the culmination of months of work by Smithsonian Provost Richard Kurin, assisted by a team from Smithsonian Music, which has launched a new website, music.si.edu, featuring an SI-wide calendar of concerts, exhibtions, performances and other music-related events.

Posted: 25 February 2016
About the Author:

Marilyn is an editor in the Smithsonian’s central Office of Public Affairs; she has been at the Smithsonian since 2008. When not editing, she aspires to be Vianne Rocher in "Chocolat" and embraces all things "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."