By Kasia Pilat
Legendary soulman Ray Charles would have celebrated his 80th birthday this past Thursday, and Los Angeles found a way to give him a gift.
Located in the studio and office building Charles built in South Los Angeles in the early ’60s, the Ray Charles Memorial Library opened on his birthday Thursday night, the Associated Press reports. His friends and colleagues, including filmmaker Taylor Hackford and Raelette Mable John were in attendance at the opening.
The library, established by the charitable Ray Charles Foundation six years after his death at 73, features interactive exhibits about his life and lengthy career. It also houses Charles’ personal piano and saxophone, microphones, letters he received from Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Johnny Cash among several other artifacts. The building, where his recording studio and a closet full of clothing remain on the second floor, was declared a cultural and historic landmark by the city of Los Angeles in 2004.
Charles started The Ray Charles Foundation in 1986 to serve the hearing impaired, and upon his death in 2004 he left all of his intellectual property and $50 million to continue its efforts. Library and foundation president Valerie Ervin said that the library’s main aim is to educate and inspire disenfranchised children who have seen arts education cut from their school curricula. It will be open exclusively to school children by invitation only, with plans to extend access to the general public in the coming year.
A 10-track compilation of Charles rarities, entitled Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters, is set to drop in late October.