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History

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Legendary musician and philanthropist Ray Charles loved down-home cooking. Charles’ mother and grandmother were both sharecroppers. On Charles’ frequent visits to New Orleans, you could find him eating at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, owned by his friends Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. and Leah Chase, in the historic Treme neighborhood of New Orleans.

 

In May of 2003, Dillard University awarded an honorary degree to Ray Charles. During his stay in New Orleans, after private meetings with some of the executive administration at Dillard University under the leadership of former Dillard University President Dr. Michael L. Lomax, Ray Charles expressed his concern for the African American cultural practices and cultural memories that would be lost among future generations. “He talked about traditions of food preparation in the black community that were really a kind of art, that his family had been a part of,” Dr. Lomax told The New York Times. “He wanted to honor his mother, his grandmother and those who had a collective memory of Africa and coming to the New World and creating a cuisine. From his point of view, their knowledge needed to be understood, preserved and transmitted to another generation.”

 

After careful planning, Ray Charles awarded Dillard University $1 million to establish a program in African American Material Culture with a concentration in the study of African American foodways and material culture in the South. This gift established the first professorship and program of its kind in African American Material Culture at any American university or HBCU. Ray Charles’ vision to preserve the culinary traditions and culture of African Americans in New Orleans and the South would help to create an institution at Dillard University for generations to come.

 

The Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture is supported by the Ray Charles Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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