Tom Petty circa 1976. Photo by Richard E. Aaron
Your Impact

Honoring an American Music Legend

A gift from Tom Petty’s family to the UF College of the Arts launches the Tom Petty Endowment for Guitars & Innovation

By Barbara Drake (MFA ’04) UF Advancement Published August 22, 2023

Decades ago, Gainesville native Tom Petty (1950-2017) honed his musical skills playing at local clubs and UF venues before starting his career in Los Angeles in 1972.

Now a new endowment in his name is funding innovative programs at UF’s School of Music that may launch “the next Tom Petty” — or the next Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys or Joe Satriani.

In May 2023, the university and the Tom Petty Estate partnered to create the Tom Petty Endowment for Guitars & Innovation at the UF School of Music in the College of the Arts. The endowment will support the next generation of artists through the school’s guitar program and new Music Business & Entrepreneurship (MBE) program, both for undergraduates.

The endowment was funded with a $100,000 gift in the rock star’s memory from the Petty family. Fans of Petty and supporters of UF can donate to the endowment here.

UF awarded an honorary doctorate to the late Tom Petty on May 4. From left to right are College of the Arts Dean Onye Ozuzu, UF President Ben Sasse and School of Music Director Kevin Orr.

May 2023 also witnessed a landmark event in music history when UF awarded Petty a posthumous honorary Doctor of Music in honor of his many contributions to the field (see “Musical Highlights”). The event made frontpage news nationwide, with Rolling Stone magazine trumpeting to readers, “That’s Dr. Tom Petty to You.

When Petty family members learned of UF’s plans to bestow the doctorate, they shared that he had long dreamed of receiving the honor.

“It is so incredible for everyone in the family that UF is honoring our dad in his hometown this way,” said daughter Adria Petty. “He loved the Gators and he loved Gainesville. He always talked about wanting a doctorate from UF, and he would have been totally blown away by all this.”

Likewise, Petty would have probably been blown away by the new endowment and the life-changing opportunities it funds, especially the school’s innovative MBE program, which will launch in fall 2024.

Overseen by multi-Latin Grammy and Emmy Award-winner José Valentino Ruiz, the MBE program is set to challenge tradition and redefine what music education in higher ed looks like. The program prepares talented music students to conduct business with a focus on impact, community and translatability.

Dean Onye Ozuzu notes that such a university program did not exist when Petty was an emerging musician in the 1960s and ’70s.

“When we look at the curriculum from the UF School of Music at the time when Tom Petty was growing up in Gainesville — and along with almost all higher ed music programs across the country, even today — someone who was focused on guitar, and writing and singing folk Americana, didn’t have a program they could attend,” Ozuzu said.

“Certainly, UF had a beautiful opera program and wonderful offerings in western classical music — but we didn’t have the type of music program that would have helped someone like Tom Petty get to where he was going.”

Today’s music students typically come to UF as accomplished musicians, but they too need a hand finding and carving their niche in the music industry.

“What they need is an opportunity to learn from more experienced musicians, to collaborate cross-stylistically and to understand how the music business works and how to succeed in it,” Ozuzu said.

Preparing students for successful careers involves giving them hands-on training in multiple facets of the music business.

“They need to understand how to market themselves, how to record their music so that it can be played in multiple formats,” she explained. “How do you get it on the radio, or how do you get it streamed? How do you get your music into a video game, on a score on Netflix, into a commercial? What companies offer independent musicians publishing packages, and how do you get access to those? Who do you collaborate with? How to trade skills, how to form small companies and collaboratives.”

Illuminating those questions and their answers is what the school’s innovative coursework is all about.

With a wealth of opportunities and immersion in new technologies, the MBE and guitar programs are ideal for budding musicians.

And now, thanks to the Tom Petty endowment, students can start “Running Down a Dream” of a cutting-edge music degree — and maybe future stardom.

By Barbara Drake (MFA ’04) UF Advancement Published August 22, 2023

Be part of Tom Petty’s tradition of music mentorship

Give to the Tom Petty Endowment for Guitars and Innovation at the UF School of Music. This endowment supports students and faculty in the Music Business & Entrepreneurship and guitar programs by funding research, master classes, curriculum development, equipment needs and more.

Tom Petty Musical Highlights

  • Met Elvis Presly at age 10, launching his interest in rock ‘n’ roll;
  • Frontman for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch;
  • Solo or with the Heartbreakers, had hit albums from the 1970s through 2010, selling 80 million+ records worldwide;
  • Songs include “American Girl” (1976), “Don’t Do Me Like That” (1979), “Refugee” (1980), “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (1985), “I Won’t Back Down” (1989), “Free Fallin’” (1989) and “Learning to Fly” (1991);
  • Inducted with the Heartbreakers into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
  • Honored as MusiCares Person of the Year in 2017 for his contributions to music and for his philanthropy.