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" (
href="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/clip.cgi?track=%7Ehh-XXXXXX%2F0181 240_0105_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt
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
"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 color="#003163">Horace Henderson
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."