Tom Petty to be given posthumous Doctor of Music degree from Florida
One of the most famous names synonymous with the University of Florida is the late rock star Tom Petty, who hailed from Hogtown originally before hitting it big out west.
While the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member never attended the hallowed halls of the Orange and Blue, his influence remains omnipresent with the recent tradition of singing his signature tune, “Won’t Back Down” during its football games. As such, the Petty family and the school have some tight connections.
“I don’t think anyone in our family, including him, thought that he would be linked with the University of Florida this way,” Bruce Petty told Rolling Stone. “It’s such a powerful thing, it was his life-long dream, and I know he would just be over-the-top, crazy happy about it.”
And despite never matriculating on campus, Petty still holds a special place in the heart of the university’s school of music.
“We in the UF School of Music and College of the Arts are privileged to honor Tom Petty with an honorary doctorate degree in Music, celebrating not only his extraordinary achievements as an artist, but the ways in which his music has and continues to unite us as a community,” University of Florida School of Music director Kevin Orr said.
Orr added, “Tom Petty’s tireless defense of the rights of performing artists, and his compassionate advocacy for the wellbeing of his neighbors in every community where he lived, are embodied by the students and faculty of the UF School of Music: commitment to one’s artistic passions, even in the face of challenges; the safeguarding of creative work to ensure unique and lasting impact; and indeed, the power of music to advance causes for the greater good in society.”
Spanning across a three-decades-plus music career, Petty earned multiple Grammy awards, MTV Music Awards, the Billboard Century Award, Radio Music Awards “Legend” Award, and other top industry honors ultimately earning an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
The Gainesville native is also widely recognized for his philanthropy in both Los Angeles and his hometown, as well as his commitment to environmental advocacy. Petty’s accolades include the Midnight Mission’s Golden Heart Award in 2011 and MusicCares “Person of the Year” at the 2017 Grammy Awards — two of the highest honors in philanthropy.
The university is also partnering with Petty’s estate on what they are calling the Tom Petty Endowment for Guitars & Innovation, benefitting its School of Music’s Guitar and new Music Business & Entrepreneurship programs. Petty’s estate donated $100,000 to the new endowment. The family is also raising money for the endowment by selling reprints of Shepard Fairey’s An American Treasure poster.
The Cade Museum, located in Petty’s hometown of Gainesville, Florida, celebrated Petty’s doctorate by screening the 2021 documentary Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free on Thursday, with UF School of Music students presenting songs from Petty’s Wildflowers album arranged for a string quartet.
The Cade will also open a Wildflowers exhibit later this year in association with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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