Ray Charles (William Claxton Photographs, Archives Center, National Museum of American History)
Ray Charles overcame racism, poverty, and blindness to gain worldwide acclaim as a singer, songwriter, pianist, and arranger. As a lad, he had ears like a sonic sponge, absorbing everything from blues to country and western music. Infusing R&B with the fervor of down-home gospel music, he helped pioneer the genre of soul music. His unique voice and passionate style made him one of the most beloved musicians of our time.
With his genius for fusing gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, blues, jazz, country, rock, and pop, Charles became one of the most innovative and influential talents in American music. He wrote such enduring songs as “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” and “What’d I Say” and made every other song his own—popular standards (“Georgia On My Mind,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”), pop hits (“Eleanor Rigby”), crossover country (“You Are My Sunshine,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You”), and a stirring interpretation of “America the Beautiful.”
Join music curator John Edward Hasse as he illuminates Ray Charles’s unique life story and illustrates—with analysis, anecdotes, photos, and video clips—his enduring contributions to American culture.
Hasse, curator emeritus of American music at the American History Museum, curated the exhibition Ray Charles: “The Genius.”
In 2005, Hasse led a mission to collect some key artifacts: Ray Charles’s Braille-coded keyboard, his chess board, stage costumes, etc. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has also collected several related items. In 2016, PBS broadcast a concert, Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles: In Performance at the White House and Smithsonian Music launched a set of offerings on Ray Charles, including interviews with curators and video links. Learn more.
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