Barack and Michelle Obama hosted a tribute to Ray Charles Wednesday night at the White House, where a taping of Smithsonian Salutes Ray Charles: In Performance at the White House was filmed. Set to air Friday on PBS, the special features performances of Charles’ music from Demi Lovato, Usher, Brittany Howard, gospel singer Yolanda Adams, and The Band Perry.
In a moving speech, Obama spoke about Charles’ childhood in the segregated South, his strong mother, and his career with musical legends.
“Whatever genre of music he was playing, there was no mistaking his singular sound: that virtuoso piano playing that matched that one-of-a-kind voice,” Obama said. “Ray Charles had the rare ability to collapse our weightiest emotions into a single note.”
He concluded: “He couldn’t see us, but we couldn’t take our eyes off of him.”
The special was the White House’s last In Performance of Obama’s administration and as he introduced the night, the president said, “For our last one it is fitting that we pay tribute to one of our favorites, one of the most brilliant and influential musicians of our times, the late, great genius himself, Mr. Ray Charles.”
See Obama introduce the night below and catch the special on PBS Friday at 9 p.m. ET.