On Wednesday night, the Obamas will host nearly 200 famous (and D.C. famous) people at the White House for a star-studded musical tribute to singer Ray Charles as part of the “In Performance” concert series produced by WETA since 1978 .
Usher, Demi Lovato, Brittany Howard and other marquee crooners are slated to belt out selections from Charles’s genre-bending greatest hits from the small stage set up in the East Room. Seated somewhere near the first family will be Charles’s ex-wife Della “B” Howard Robinson (Kerry Washington played her in the 2004 film “Ray”), the couple’s eldest son, 62-year-old Ray Charles Robinson Jr., and Charles’s eldest daughter, Evelyn, 66.
Missing from the glitz and glamour will be Charles’s nine other living children, eight of whom were fathered with eight different women during and after the singer’s 22-year-marriage to Howard Robinson. Those Charles children will be watching from their respective couches when the concert airs on PBS Feb. 26. Eight of them weren’t invited (one wasn’t able to make it). And according to several of Charles’s daughters, most of the children rarely, if ever, are asked to participate in such events.
“We’re usually the last to hear about it,” said Raenee Robinson, 54, who functions as her siblings’ unofficial spokeswoman. Raenee’s the one with everyone else’s phone number, checking in periodically with her brother and sisters who are spread out from Los Angeles to Paris. “Everyone might not talk to each other, but everyone talks to me,” she explained.
So when news broke of the planned tribute to their father, it was Raenee who first found out that 11 invites bearing the White House seal weren’t on their way. The only children initially invited were Charles’s two sons with Howard Robinson — Ray Jr. and Robert. Robert, 54, couldn’t make the trip (the couple’s middle son, David, died in 2013 at 54). Evelyn, who spent summers during her childhood with “B” and her boys, got her invitation a few weeks ago and called Raenee excited, assuming her sister had gotten a golden ticket too.
When they asked, the other children were told by Ray Jr., a producer on “Ray” who also helped WETA raise funding for the concert, space was limited and he wasn’t in charge of the guest list. It was also suggested that they try contacting the Obamas’ social office.
“You can’t call the White House and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to get an invite to this,'” said Robyn Moffett, 37, Charles’s youngest daughter, who added that being snubbed is a familiar feeling.
In 2013, when the United States Postal Service held two concerts in Los Angeles and Atlanta commemorating Charles’s postage stamp, Robyn, who lives in Atlanta, found out because she worked for the post office at the time.
“We are what’s left of him and it’s as if we don’t exist,” Robyn said. “It hurts to know that we are his family and we’re treated like outcasts.”
Robyn’s older sister Sheila Jean Robinson, 52, said out of the 200 or so seats in the room, 11 should have been reserved for each of Charles’s children, as opposed to a select few. They all wish they’d been closer to the “father of soul” during his lifetime, added Sheila, but now they’ll settle for “just being a part of continuing his legacy.”
That’s hard to do, said the sisters, when their phones don’t ring.
Like most decades-long family dramas, the frayed nerves run deeper than missed memos and invitations. The siblings are currently in a federal court battle with the Ray Charles Foundation, the singer’s nonprofit organization and the sole beneficiary of his estate, over Charles’s copyright royalties.
The foundation’s president, Valerie Ervin, will be at the White House concert on Wednesday. She was not available for comment.
David Ritz co-authored Charles’s 1978 autobiography “Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story.” He said the issues that have been bubbling up since the singer’s death in 2004, were a long time coming.
“What’s underneath it all are children’s need for attention and that doesn’t go away,” said Ritz. “Now when their dad’s alive it certainly hurts, but when he dies and that issue is unresolved, then it really compounds.”