Known as “The Genius,” Ray Charles 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. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will showcase the life and inimitable impact of the celebrated singer, pianist and composer with “Ray Charles: ‘The Genius,’” a display open through June 30.
During a career spanning more than five decades, Charles earned worldwide acclaim and received countless honors, including 12 Grammy Awards, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the National Medal of the Arts. His hits crossed and combined genres, developing a unique style that found a wide audience and left a lasting influence on American culture. Artists such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Tony Bennett and Willie Nelson found inspiration in Charles’ music.
“Ray Charles: ‘The Genius’” will feature personal items highlighting his 53-year career, including 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.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy, immigration and migration and culture. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th Streets N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.