Blues/Folk Beat: Ray Charles, John Wesley Harding, Rickie Lee Jones ...

Legendary soul man donates university gift; two releases due from Harding; Jones to tour Canada, Europe.

Through his Ray Charles Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders, legendary pianist and singer Ray Charles has given $2 million to Ohio's Wilberforce University. Charles' generosity — the largest single gift the private, historically black university has ever received — will be used to aid students studying music, theater, dance and voice, and to provide visiting scholars, according to the Associated Press. ...

Singer/songwriter John Wesley Harding's next album, The Confessions of St. Ace, will be released Aug. 29 by Mammoth Records, with whom he recently signed a contract. Among the guests on the album, recorded in Nashville, are Steve Earle and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. One of its 12 tracks, "I'm Wrong About Everything," was included on the "High Fidelity" soundtrack. Performing solo, Harding will open shows for Gilmore next month, then tour with a full band once the album's out. Harding also is reissuing Trad Arr Jones, a collection of 17th- to 19th-century British folk tunes arranged by folkie Nic Jones on Appleseed Recordings with four extra tunes he recorded recently with a side band, Minstrel in the Galleries, including Kurt Bloch from the Fastbacks. ...

Rickie Lee Jones' album of covers will be issued on the Artemis Records label in September. The album, whose working title is It's Like This, includes versions of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," the Beatles' "For No One" and Traffic's "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys," plus the "West Side Story" song "One Hand, One Heart" and a tune penned by Charlie Chaplin, "Smile." Jones has five shows scheduled in Canada from June 24–30 before traveling to Europe in mid-July for seven dates in Germany, followed by shows in France, Norway, Denmark and Sweden that will keep her busy into August. ...

An organization known as the Guacamole Fund has announced two benefit shows for early August in Southern California that will feature an unusually star-studded lineup. Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Graham Nash, David Lindley, Warren Zevon, Chris Hillman, Ry Cooder, Andy Fairweather Low and ex-Eagle Bernie Leadon will play in support of Friends of Fred Walecki. Instrument expert Fred Walecki, proprietor of Westwood Music, is facing high medical expenses after recently having had surgery for throat cancer. The shows will be held Aug. 8 and 9 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. ...

Sets from Bishopstock 2000, a blues festival held in England during the Memorial Day weekend, will be webcast at Bishopstock.com over the course of the next month. Performers scheduled to appear in cyberspace from the Bishop's Court Palace Grounds include Deborah Coleman, Koko Taylor, Steve Earle, Taj Mahal, Magic Slim, Susan Tedeschi, Charlie Musselwhite, Shemekia Copeland, Corey Harris, John Hammond and Mavis Staples. ...

In a message posted on the Indigo Girls' Web site (indigogirls.com), Amy Ray reports that she's working on a solo project scheduled for a February release and that she and Emily Saliers will record two new acoustic songs for a retrospective album due in the fall. Their fall tour, Honor the Earth, will focus on opposition to the Nuclear Waste Transportation Act and the killing of buffalo near Yellowstone National Park, and supports Native environmentalists on a variety of issues. On their current tour, they'll appear with Michael Franti and Spearhead, Shannon Curfman, Kelly Hogan, Ruth Polenzani, Michelle Malone and lesbian punk trio the Butchies, who are working with Ray on her solo disc. ...

The Blues Foundation is soliciting contestants for its International Blues Challenge on its Web site, www.blues.org/ibc. Besides the title "Best Unsigned Blues Band," the contest, to be held in February, offers winners cash, studio time and gigs. There's also an Albert King Award for the most promising guitarist. Winners this year included New York's Dave Keyes Band, which sometimes works with singer David Johansen, and, for the King Award, Sam Cockrell and the Groove's Chris Forte. ... Double Trouble, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's rhythm section of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton, who recently backed guitarist Debbie Davies on her Tales From the Austin Motel album, will close out June touring Brazil behind Angolan-born guitarist Nuno Mindelis. They worked together on Mindelis' Texas Bound (Antone's/Eldorado) in 1995, and Blues on the Outside (Trama, 1999). ... At the just-completed Telluride Bluegrass Festival, blues women Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt provided one of the highlights, dueting on John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" on Friday. ...

Artie Traum's Homespun tapes' latest VHS offering is "Bluegrass Jamming: A Guide for Newcomers and Closet Pickers." Banjo player Pete Wernick, fiddler Michael Kang, and Dobro player Sally van Meter are among the musicians leading viewers through standards such as "Salt Creek," "Soldier's Joy," "Handsome Molly" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky." The 105-minute tape comes with lyrics and chord charts. ...

Steve Earle is scheduled to perform on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 30 as part of a fast and vigil advocating the abolition of the death penalty in the United States. Earle's performance is part of a four-day gathering of death-penalty opponents in Washington, D.C., from June 29–July 2, organized by the Abolitionist Action Committee. Earle has long been outspoken in his opposition to capital punishment. ...

Next from Ani DiFranco is the Swing Set EP, due July 11 on Righteous Babe. In addition to the song "Swing," the set includes covers of Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" and Phil Ochs' "When I'm Gone" (from the soundtrack to the upcoming "Steal This Movie"); a recent live version of the Woody Guthrie standard "Do, Re, Mi" on which she's joined by Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and Bo Ramsey; and a remix of "To the Teeth," the title song of DiFranco's current album. ...

The late Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Son House and Bukka White are all featured on two hour-long DVD releases from the Shanachie label. The two Masters of the Country Blues videos pair Hopkins and Lipscomb and House and White respectively, in enhanced recordings and film made in the '60s. ... Also on the DVD front, Homespun Tapes is offering an instructional video by former Howlin' Wolf sideman Hubert Sumlin. The Blues of Hubert Sumlin offers an hour-long lesson built around the songs "Smokestack Lightnin' " and "Going Down Slow," among others. ...

— sonicnet.com staff report