CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (U-Wire) The CEO of Time Warner Inc. has announced that the company will endow a Harvard professorship dedicated to the study of black music.
This will be the first time a corporation has funded a permanent professorship in Afro-American studies at any American university.
The seat will officially be called the Quincy Jones Professorship of African-American Music, Supported by the Time Warner Endowment. The endowment will fund a joint professorship in the Afro-American studies and music departments.
"I don't deserve it," the 67-year-old winner of 26 Grammy Awards said at a press conference announcing the professorship.
Jones' long list of accomplishments as a musician, composer and executive ranges from playing the trumpet and arranging music for jazz greats Lionel Hampton and Count Basie to producing the NBC show "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."
The announcement and tribute to Jones were part of the celebration of the Afro-American Studies Department's 30th anniversary, held at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel in Boston.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of the department and DuBois professor of the humanities, said he was very excited by Time Warner's decision, which he called unexpected.
According to Gates, Time Warner CEO Gerald M. Levin agreed four years ago to sponsor a visiting professor in Afro-American studies. At last June's commencement, Levin notified Gates that he wanted to make the funding permanent as an endowed professorship.
"To our astonishment, he announced with absolutely no warning that Time Warner had decided to endow a chair," Gates said.
University spokesperson Rebecca Rollins declined to put a dollar value on Time Warner's gift, but she said that endowments of this type are generally at least $3 million.
President Neil L. Rudenstine said he was equally enthused by the development.
"Nothing could be more celebratory, nothing could be more profoundly right, nothing could make a president more cheerful," Rudenstine said.
"Black people did two things when they came to this country," said Gates. "They prayed to God and they sang."
Robinson Professor of Music Robert D. Levin no relation to Gerald Levin said he thought the endowment was important from a musical point of view, as well.
"African-American contributions to American culture in the field of jazz stand on the highest peak of musical achievement this country has produced," Levin wrote in an email message.
Gates said a search committee of a few professors to find a scholar to fill the chair has been formed. He said he hopes to have the chair filled by the middle of next year.
Jones said he would like the selected professor to be someone who "can bring the whole family of this music together" a generalist who appreciates all forms of black music and understands their common bond.
The main influences of black music, he said, are the black church, the African continent and Caribbean and Latin American influences.
Jones added that the "first line" of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Basie should one day be regarded as the Brahmses, Beethovens and Bachs of black music.
Robert Levin, who introduces students to that "first line" in the popular Core class Literature & Arts B-80, "The Swing Era," said he hopes a black scholar is chosen.
"Harvard would do very well indeed to increase the number of women and minority faculty members," Robert Levin said. "And this is an important chair in which that could be done."
Gerald Levin declined to say whether any future endowments from Time Warner were in the works, stressing the spur-of-the-moment nature of the decision. But he didn't rule anything out.
"As a company, education is our highest obligation," he added.
"In my family, it's always been very important," Levin said.