The House Goes Hollywood
Ray Charles tribute pays homage to a great musician, raises $650,000
Ray Charles was a maestro of the duet. He married sacred and secular music to create the “soul” genre. For some, it was the musical equivalent of miscegenation. To countless others, it was a match made in heaven.
Ray also mingled soul with the twangs of country-western, and even combined his emollient vocals with the music of a full orchestra to effectively turn a state song into a classic that doesn’t fall neatly into any one category. His profound success at blending music to create new genres earned him the moniker “Genius.”
It’s not surprising then, that on the night Morehouse College paid tribute to Charles at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., there were numerous instances of non-traditional mingling. More than 800 guests attended the Tribute in which celebrated actors rubbed elbows with college administrators, like Dean Calvin Grimes, Division of Humanities and Social Sciences. Soul stirrers Gerald Levert and James Ingram shared a stage with country crooners Travis Tritt and Ronnie Milsap. And singing with the Los Angeles-based Crenshaw Elite High School Choir, were adult chaperones who thought it more interesting to join the students in song rather than just sit and wait.
So when Morehouse ventured West to pay homage to this great singer, it somehow all clicked. The event that paired Hollywood hoopla with a small Southern college launched the fund-raising campaign for the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center and raised $670,000 in table and ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. But the benefits of the Tribute came in terms other than financial.
“We wanted to increase public awareness of Morehouse on the West Coast and within the entertainment industry,” explained Kathleen Johnson, Tribute Planning Committee chairperson. “Based on the tremendous media coverage of the event, participation of nine nationally known artists, including Stevie Wonder, attendance by numerous celebrities and support from many additional individuals and companies in the entertainment business, I can say unequivocally that we achieved our objective, which we hope will lead to an expanded base of financial support from the West Coast.
“In fundraising, you don’t often get the opportunity to leverage a legacy gift,” said Johnson, referring to Charles’ two $1-million gifts he gave the College in 2001 that sealed his commitment to help find, educate and inspire the next generation of music pioneers.
“That is what made our tribute to Ray Charles unique. This event, unlike any other that we have had, certainly outside Atlanta, allowed us to build on Mr. Charles’ gifts and legacy and begin to cultivate new supporters of the College. Morehouse was very fortunate to have had this opportunity,” said Johnson.
Bill Cosby, a Morehouse trustee, served as the Tribute’s co-host. Who better than Cosby, a man who has achieved phenomenal success in both education and entertainment, could provide the perfect bridge between the House and Hollywood. There were other such “bridges” in attendance.
Samuel L. Jackson ’72, a Morehouse alum who has made a name for himself on the big screen, introduced his alma mater. When he announced that Morehouse had been chosen for the third consecutive time as Black Enterprise magazine’s college of choice for African American students, Hollywood gave the College a round of applause.
Also in attendance that evening were celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Regina King, stars of the film on Charles’ life, Ray. Other performers included Brian McKnight, Michael McDonald, Billy Preston and Patti Austin. The Morehouse Jazz Ensemble provided dinner entertainment. Not everyone in attendance, however, was drawn to the Tribute for its star factor.
“I come to as many events as possible to support the school,” said Harun Rahman ’02, who traveled from Atlanta. “We have to give back, so I do whatever I can to contribute.”
Joe Adams, Charles’ longtime business manager and a College benefactor, offered what he thought Charles would say if he were at the Tribute. “Ray would be fussing profusely to me. ‘What is this? I didn’t come here to eat, I came here to play.’ But deep inside, he would think, ‘This is wonderful.’
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