Ray Charles Gives Wilberforce University $2 Million

Legendary singer's endowment to Ohio school will jump-start scholarship program, guest-lecturer series.

When Wilberforce University granted Ray

Charles an honorary degree last year, school officials did

not expect anything in return — certainly not the $2 million the

R&B legend donated to them earlier this month.

"When I found out, I was on cloud nine," said John L. Henderson,

president of the university. "We were just so glad to get this gift."

The "Georgia on My Mind" (


240_0105_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt) singer visited the

campus, near Dayton, Ohio, in December to receive an honorary doctorate

in humane letters from the liberal-arts university, which has a strong

African-American heritage.

"In my small way, I wanted to be part of this great history," Charles

told the Associated Press.

"He said 'small,' " Henderson said. "But it's not small for us." The

gift, made through the Ray Charles Robinson Foundation for Hearing

Disorders, is the largest in the school's 144-year history.

In addition to being the first university owned and operated by African

Americans, the school has a tradition of musical talent. During the

1930s, the school had a touring band, the

color="#003163">Wilberforce Collegians, directed by

color="#003163">Horace Henderson, brother of early jazz great

Fletcher Henderson. Bandleader

Benny Carter and saxophonist

Frank Foster, a featured member of

Count Basie's orchestra, were

students at Wilberforce.

The school will set up two $1 million endowments — one for a

scholarship fund, and the other to bring visiting professors for

lectures and presentations. Henderson said Charles donated the money all

at once, allowing the school to set up the programs as soon as possible.

"I can imagine how the initial recipients will [feel to] be honored ...

as among the first Ray Charles scholars," Henderson said. "It will

probably be quite competitive."