"In Performance at the White House: Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles" Premieres on PBS

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23 February 2016
In Performance at the White House
Photo: Courtesy of Norman Seef
"In Performance at the White House: Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles"
Premieres Friday, February 26 at 9 PM ET/PT on PBS
(Check your local listings)
Usher, Brittany Howard, Andra Day, Yolanda Adams, The Band Perry and More Headline White House Music Special
         “Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles: In Performance at the White House” showcases an evening of celebration with President and Mrs. Obama at the White House in honor of the legacy of iconic singer, songwriter, composer and musician Ray Charles. The event tapes on February 24, 2016, and the concert broadcast premieres Friday, February 26 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide and will also be simulcast on cable channel TV One (check local listings.)  The evening includes 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. The hour-long program, part of the Emmy Award-nominated “In Performance at the White House” series, is the 56th production in the series’ thirty-eight-year history. 
         Born in Georgia on September 23, 1930, Ray Charles was an iconic singer, songwriter, composer, and musician. Often called the “Genius of Soul,” Charles combined blues, gospel and jazz to create groundbreaking hits such as “Unchain My Heart,” “Hit the Road Jack,” and “Georgia on My Mind.” As a child, Charles began to gradually lose his sight. He was blind by the age of 7, and his mother sent him to a state-sponsored school, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida—where he learned to read, write and arrange music in Braille. He also learned to play piano, organ, sax, clarinet and trumpet. At the age of 16, Charles moved to Seattle where he developed his unique musical style and made his first record. It was also in Seattle that he formed a life-long friendship with fellow artist, Quincy Jones.
         Charles pioneered soul music during the 1950s, combining blues, gospel, and rhythm and blues music. He also created successful jazz records and, in a career spanning more than a half-century, Charles achieved his most prominent success as a crossover artist, recording country and pop records that helped integrate American popular music. One of the first members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Charles earned 17 GRAMMY® Awards, the GRAMMY® Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors, among other accolades. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Charles number 10 on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and number 2 on its list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”
         Ray Charles died on June 10, 2004 at age 73. His legacy lives on through the Ray Charles Foundation, which is dedicated to providing support in the area of hearing disorders and the empowerment of young people through education by offering support to educational institutions and non-profit education programs. On what would have been his 80th birthday, the Ray Charles Memorial Library was opened to share his legacy and to encourage and inspire youth to embrace their creativity and stimulate their imaginations.
         Years before he passed away, Ray Charles helped the Smithsonian by lending his voice and a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” to an exhibition of national treasures that traveled across the United States. He was himself a living national treasure, and “Ray Charles: The Genius,” a current exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recalls his influence through a display of his iconic electronic keyboard, sunglasses, recordings and other personal effects. The National Portrait Gallery features portraits and photographs of Ray Charles in its collections. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, to be opened by the President in September, will also help tell his story. The Smithsonian website, music.si.edu, launches with the Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles performance and includes materials for teachers and students to learn more about the roots of his music, his artistry and his legacy.
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