The family of music legend Ray Charles is gearing up for a battle over their father’s estate, which they allege has been tied up in legal disputes between the estate’s management and his family members.
Charles was gravely ill with cancer in 2002 when he called a meeting with his 12 children shortly before Christmas of that year. He then outlined what would be done with the family fortune: the bulk of the money would be left to The Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders, but $500,000 had been placed in trusts for each of the children to be paid out over the next five years.
“He cleared the room of all the waiters,” recalled the Rev. Robert Robinson, 46. I was taking pictures and recording,” recalls Robinson.
“I had my video camera going and my father told me to turn it off. Now I regret that I didn’t keep it running,” said Robinson, who said the videotaped document would have cleared up a lot of confusion over the will.
Many of the family members recall that Charles said there would be more money for them “down the line.” Some felt that meant that they would eventually be able to license his name and likeness for profit.
Ray Charles died at age 73 on June 10, 2004 after a long battle with cancer.
After his death, family members never received a full accounting of their father’s estate. The family has filed lawsuits against Joe Adams, Charles’ former manager, and others associated with Ray Charles Enterprises, which holds the rights to his music and the Ray Charles Foundation.
The family wants accountability for thousands of videotapes, musical recordings, and other artifacts produced by their father during his career. Observers estimate that Charles held about $50 million in securities and real estate. His original master recordings total an additional $25 million.
Charles’ children declare that they want to have a greater control in the marketing of their father’s name and image, and a greater voice in foundation affairs.
“The battle over the trust got worse from the time of my father’s passing in 2004,” said Robinson, who, along with his brothers, Ray Charles Robinson Jr., 52, Raenee Robinson, 46, and Corey Robinson, 20, all filed lawsuits regarding the estate.
Robinson alleges that the Charles family never received notice of their father’s death from Joe Adams, executor of the Charles estate and Charles’ long time manager. “The way we found out that our father passed was through the media. I’m sitting home watching television and they announce that Ray Charles had passed. Adams had all our phone numbers, but he never gave any of us a phone call.”
The Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders is currently being investigated by the California Attorney General’s office, which has cited that the foundation is allegedly being controlled by Adams without an independent board.
“We have no records or anything about what Adams has done with the money or the foundation,” alleges Robinson. “We want a full-length investigation into the financial records of our father’s estate, the foundation, and Ray Charles Enterprises.”
Adams, 86, who signed on as Charles’ manager in 1961, is cited as having had controlling access to the star and his assets. Adams was director of the foundation and trustee of the children’s trusts.
The children have been unable to obtain an accounting of the estate. Family members also claim that Adams has kept the children and other family members from participating in ceremonies honoring their father.
“We have no record of our trust fund,” said Robinson, who visited the Our Weekly offices to discuss the lawsuits. “Joe Adams told us that (what is done with our trusts) is none of our business. He does give us money from the trust, but we’ve never received records or statements on the trust,” said Robinson, who said that Adams was the executor over Charles’ will. “What is the interest rate from the trusts? We don’t even know which bank our trust money is in–we feel he’s mishandling the trust, so that’s why we’re in litigation.”
Maryann Dembok, an attorney who is the mother of Charles’ youngest child, Corey Robinson, filed a federal lawsuit for her son and nine of his siblings. He said that Adams’ actions have “distorted and trivialized” the value of the Charles name.
Robinson said that some of the children are reluctant to press legal proceedings. “Adams had lawyers, so they feel if they tried to sue him, they could possibly lose their trust–it’s a very touchy matter.”
In what many family members said was unconscionable, Adams allegedly interrupted a private family service at Angelus Funeral Home in Los Angeles after Charles’ passing and attempted to eject some of the attendees. He allegedly ordered the casket removed from the chapel as, Robinson said, family members looked on in disbelief.
Calls to Adams were referred to a public relations firm, Solters and Digney, who did not respond as of press time.
Lisa Nkonoki, manager of Ray Jr. and spokesperson for the family, said that the family is assembling a team of lawyers within the next 10 days. “The next step is that we’re viewing all the options and assembling a team of legal experts, as well as forensic accountants to make sure that there are no improprieties with the money that their dad left. We want an accounting of all the businesses, which include Ray Charles Enterprises, Ray Charles Marketing Group, and the Robinson Family Foundation,” said Nkonoki.
Robinson said that he wants full accountability of all of his father’s assets and plans to request to sit on the board of The Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders. “I don’t like the way that Joe Adams has disrespected the family. If he said he loved and respected Ray Charles all these years, how can he disrespect the kids?”