Morehouse gets $3 million gift from Ray Charles Foundation

The Ray Charles Foundation has awarded Morehouse College a $3 million gift.

The gift will secure the naming of the academic wing of the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at the college after the late singer’s mother, Aretha Robinson

The announcement was made Saturday night during Morehouse’s 25th Annual “A Candle in the Dark” gala, the largest fund-raiser for the historically black college for men.

“I know that Ray Charles had a long-standing relationship with Morehouse based on professionalism, integrity and honesty,” Valerie Ervin, president of the foundation, said in a statement. “He genuinely valued the education and preparation that Morehouse provides to young men.”

Ervin noted that the relationship between Charles and Morehouse began several years ago when he was invited to Atlanta to perform with the college’s jazz ensemble. Ray Charles’ friend and former Morehouse Trustee Bill Cosby opened that performance, but it was his long-time manager, Joe Adams, who introduced Charles to Morehouse, Ervin said. Adams was an avid contributor to Morehouse, having given a personal gift in support of the construction of the performing arts center, now named for Charles.

“Morehouse is fortunate to have been able to forge a relationship with Mr. Charles. More important, we are grateful to him, Ms. Ervin, and The Ray Charles Foundation for all they have done to promote appreciation of the arts and humanities and to further music education at the College,” said Morehouse president John Silvanus Wilson Jr..

“The funds so generously donated this evening will not only memorialize Mrs. Aretha Robinson, but they will afford us new opportunities to promote the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center.”

In 2001 musician received an honorary degree from Morehouse; later that year he made two $1 million gifts to the school.

In November, the foundation reclaimed $1.2 million of $3 million in donations to Albany State University because the school did not use the money to build a performing arts center.

Charles, who spent his childhood in Georgia, made gifts totaling $3 million to Albany State in 2001 and 2002 to build a performing arts center named in honor of his mother. The building has not been built.

The singer and pianist died in 2004.

Ervin said then: “Ray Charles, Joe Adams, who was Ray’s longtime manager, and I were clear and specific about how this gift was to be spent. It is incomprehensible that ASU failed to use the money in the manner Mr. Charles specified.”

The foundation asked that the money be returned and got Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens involved.

Albany State President Everette J. Freeman said that returning the money “brings to a close negotiations with the Ray Charles Foundation.”

But the university has not given up hopes to build a performing arts center, estimated at more than $20 million.

Staff writer Chris Quinn contributed to this report.