Ray Charles' Gift to Culinary Education

March 11, 2005

When the late great Ray Charles passed, he left more than a monumental musical legacy and an Oscar for Jamie Foxx. His love of food, especially New Orleans cuisine, prompted him to donate $1 million to Dillard University to endow a chair in black culinary studies and other aspects of black culture. Dillard recently began advertising the position, said to be the first professorship in African-American culinary history in the U.S., in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"There are barely programs in food studies, let alone any kind of endowed specialized chair," Dillard spokesperson Amy Bentley told the New York Times News Service. Dillard, a historically black, private, New Orleans institution with 2,100 students, had given Charles an honorary degree in May 2003. Six months later, Charles gave them a gift in return.

"[Charles] 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," recalled Michael Lomax, Dillard's president at the time of Charles' donation and now the director of the United Negro College Fund. Lomax told the news service, "[Charles] 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."

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