Ray Charles' Childhood Home Open to Visitors
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Feb. 4, 2010
Ray Charles (1930-2004) grew up in the tiny town of Greenville, Fla., 40 miles from Tallahassee. By 2005, his childhood home was in danger of collapse.
"It was very dilapidated, falling down," says Justina Cone, a member of the all-volunteer Greenville Heritage Committee. "It looked beyond hope."
But one of Charles' childhood friends did have hope. Elesta Pritchett, now the mayor of Greenville, pop. 837, was determined to save the 900-square-foot structure.
"It was just something that I really wanted to do," Pritchett says. "I knew, with the help of others, it could be done."
The town purchased the house in 2006 and two years later won a $48,000 historic preservation grant from the state of Florida. Last September, on what would have been Charles' 79th birthday, the town formally dedicated the house as a museum.
"It was a great day for me," Pritchett says of the Sept. 23 dedication. "I can see in my mind what it looked like then. … It looks exactly [like it did in the 1930s]."
Pritchett also worked to erect a bronze statue of Charles in the town park, and several of the performer's relatives attended an unveiling ceremony in 2006—"a big day for Greenville," Cone says.
The town continues to collect items from the 1930s to furnish the interiors of the Ray Charles Childhood Home, which is currently open by appointment only. Pritchett hopes it will be accessible on a more regular schedule starting this spring.
"When people find out that he's from Greenville, they come from all over; it's amazing," says Jim Parrish, special projects consultant for the town, who helped obtain the state grant. "He came from the depths of poverty in the segregated South."
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