Sheila Johnson, U of I Alumna, Endows Two Chairs in Music

May 12, 2008 08:00 AM

Sheila C. Johnson, entrepreneur, philanthropist, musician and long-time patron of the arts, is donating $4 million to endow two chairs in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Music. The generous gift will create the Daniel J. Perrino Chair of Jazz Studies and the Susan Starrett Chair in Violin. Both Perrino and Starrett have long-time associations with the U of I School of Music and were mentors to Johnson while she was a student.

Johnson, a 1970 music education graduate from the University of Illinois and an accomplished violinist and conductor, is CEO of Salamander Hospitality, LLC, and a founding partner of BET (Black Entertainment Television). As President & Managing Partner of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, and a partner in Lincoln Holdings, LLC, Ms. Johnson is the first woman to have a stake in three professional sports teams, including the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Capitals (NHL).The University of Illinois Alumni Association honored Johnson with an Alumni Achievement Award on Friday, May 9, 2008.

“Sheila Johnson is one of the University of Illinois’ most distinguished alumni,” says B. Joseph White, University of Illinois president. “Her extraordinary gift to support Music and recognize her two beloved mentors demonstrates her generous spirit and deep commitment to the University. I am extremely grateful for her personal involvement with the University, her gift, and most important, her friendship.”

“Sheila’s decision to honor two people who mentored her at Illinois—Dan Perrino and alumna Susan Starrett—is a living tribute to our mission of molding the leaders of every generation,” says Richard Herman, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. “She has shared with us many fond stories from her time as a student here, and our hope is that her gift will ensure that future generations of students in our School of Music will leave Illinois with the memories of a great experience, as well as the knowledge and drive to follow Sheila’s footsteps and become a positive force for change in their world.”

A violinist since childhood, Johnson played for the Chicago Civic Symphony and with various string quartets, taught music in New Jersey and Washington D.C., and formed the Young Strings in Action Orchestra that performed worldwide. While serving as a U.S. Information Agency cultural liaison to the Middle East, she taught music in Jordan and was instrumental in establishing that country’s first National Music Conservatory for which she garnered Jordan’s highest educational honor from King Hussein. She is currently an avid sponsor of the arts, dedicating herself to organizations that give children and young adults the opportunity to express their creativity.

“The arts, especially music, are crucial for young people’s development,” says Sheila C. Johnson. “Music teaches communication skills and focus, develops self-esteem, discipline and curiosity. Music provides a solid building block for success in the rest of a musician’s life. We need committed, talented teachers to pass on the gift of music to our students, and I am thrilled to be able to honor my mentors Daniel J. Perrino and Susan Starrett with these two chairs, passing on their legacy of inspiration to generations of music students to come.”

“The two chairs that Sheila Johnson has so generously endowed for the School of Music will enable us to hire and retain the most talented and sought after faculty in our two signature programs: strings and jazz studies,” states Karl Kramer, director of the U of I School of Music. “The faculty and I are most grateful for Sheila’s vision and confidence in the School as we develop and maintain programs to educate the future generation of world-class musicians and teachers right here in Illinois.”

A dedicated activist, Sheila C. Johnson serves as a Global Ambassador for CARE, whose mission is to fight global poverty. Her focus is building solidarity and empowering women and girls to become catalysts for change in communities around the world. She presently serves as Chairman of the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design and sits on the boards of VH1 Save the Music, Americans for the Arts, and the Curry School of Education Foundation at the University of Virginia. She established the Sheila C. Johnson Performing Arts Center at the Hill School in Middleburg, VA, and has supported Strings for Schools in Philadelphia, Urban Gateways in Chicago, and The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Virginia. Currently, Johnson is creating and championing films with a humanitarian message. Her latest film, A Powerful Noise, premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Johnson currently makes her home in The Plains, Virginia with her husband the Honorable William T. Newman, Jr., and her two children, Brett and Paige.

The Illinois Brilliant Futures Campaign was publicly launched June 1, 2007. The campaign officially began on July 1, 2003, kicking off its “quiet phase” and will continue its eight and one-half year quest through year-end 2011. Of the total $2.25 billion campaign objective, $1.5 billion is the goal for the Urbana-Champaign campus; $650 million is for the Chicago campus and $28 million is for the Springfield campus. The Illinois campaign, with a goal of $2.25 billion, ranks among the largest campaigns for higher education in the nation.

Don Kojich
University of Illinois Foundation
Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications