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Smithsonian Collection to Unveil Ray Charles Memorabilia


Beginning October 28, fans of Ray Charles will be able to see a collection of personal items from his estate at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Ray Charles' close friend and business manager Joe Adams made the donation.

During a recent donation ceremony, items belonging to Ray Charles were neatly arranged on two long tables: A keyboard customized with Braille markings; a gold-sequined jacket; two tuxedos; a garment bag; Ray-Ban sunglasses; ornamental desk cases; a chess set for blind people; books; publications; and a traveling bathroom kit.

Glowing remarks were bestowed upon Charles by museum director Brent Glass, curator John Edward Hasse, and former radio, stage and screen star Joe Adams, who also donated items of his own. Having spent over 45 years in the Ray Charles organization as a businessman, producer and philanthropist, Adams spoke eloquently about his enduring friendship with Ray Charles. He said Ray Charles never considered being blind a handicap.

"He never dwelled on being blind," Adams says. "In fact, he used to say we the sighted were the ones that were handicapped. He said he was very happy just as he was. And he told me anything that I can do or that anyone else can do, he could do. He just had to figure out a different way to do it. And he did. I remember once [singer] Andy Williams came up to the office and he said, 'Ray I see you running around the office and you don't seem to be bothered. You run, you make all the corners and all the curves. Is there anything that bothers you about being blind?' Ray thought for a moment and he says, 'Yes.' And he said, 'Well, what is it?' Ray said, 'I can't see.' I thought that was a pretty good answer."

The museum's Curator of American Music John Hasse illustrated Ray Charles' musical genius by borrowing a phrase from Duke Ellington: 'Beyond category.'"

"Charles amazed the music industry with success in one musical style after another," he says. "He rose above the boundaries between musical categories. Ray Charles transcended."

The Ray Charles collection will take its place next to Duke Ellington's unpublished music, Lionel Hampton's vibes, Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet, Artie Shaw's clarinets and costumes belonging to Ella Fitzgerald. Director Brent Glass says the newly donated items will add an insightful touch to the Ray Charles story.

"Music permeates American history and it permeates this museum," he says. "And now we'll have an opportunity to bring Ray Charles' music and his career to the attention of our visitors, and millions of visitors who come to our museum and who visit our website."

Ray Charles would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 23, just two days after the donation ceremony at the National Museum of American History. A selection from the collection will be open to the public on October 28.