On May 12, President William D. Underwood announced the establishment of the Mansfield and Genelle Jennings Distinguished University Chair in Music in the Townsend School of Music’s McDuffie Center for Strings. The gift establishing the endowed chair comes on the heels of two recently endowed funds: the Helen Wall Rich Endowed Professorship in Keyboard Performance and The G. Leslie Fabian Endowed Chair of Music.
“These three significant gifts for the Townsend School of Music within the last few weeks will further strengthen the McDuffie Center for Strings and the Townsend School of Music and accelerate their development as centers of excellence within the University,” Underwood said. “We are profoundly grateful to these families for making such generous investments in our academic programs.”
Founded by world-renowned violinist Robert McDuffie in 2006, the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings is a highly selective program that prepares students for success in the real world. The Center, an institute within the Townsend School of Music, provides students with the opportunity to study with some of the nation’s most elite strings musicians while also earning an academically well-rounded undergraduate education.
The Mansfield and Genelle Jennings Distinguished University Chair in Music will help ensure the success of the Center by attracting the finest faculty to the School of Music and the Center for Strings. McDuffie, a Grammy-nominated artist who has appeared as a soloist with most of the major orchestras of the world, will be the first holder of the Chair.
“It is a privilege to support both Mercer University, a world-class educational institution headquartered in Middle Georgia, and Robert McDuffie, a world-class musician whose roots are in Middle Georgia,” said Genelle Jennings. “Together they form an inspiring partnership contributing the finest in cultural and educational values to our area and on to the entire world. The impact of the McDuffie School for Strings is incalculable. We are proud to play a small part in this special program.”
Mansfield Jennings, a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, is chairman of ComSouth Corp., a full-service telecommunications company based in Hawkinsville. His wife, Genelle, has a long history with McDuffie. The two met in Macon while taking violin lessons from the same instructor.
“The Jennings family’s extraordinary gift to endow the Distinguished University Chair in Music is yet another example of their quiet but tenacious support of arts education in the state of Georgia,” McDuffie said. “Genelle and Mansfield’s support for Mercer’s vision to create the Center for Strings has been unwavering from the moment they heard about it. Their friendship of over 25 years to me and my family has been faithful and unconditional. It will be my highest honor to be the first holder of the Chair.”
Founded in 2006, the Center for Strings is on track to meet its enrollment goal of 26 students: 12 violinists, six violists, six cellists and two double bassists. The Center enrolls six new students each year.
Townsend Dean John Dickson said the Chair will enhance the Center’s ability to provide its students with music instruction of a conservatory quality.
“It is indeed a rare opportunity when a university can create a special project whose unique contributions focus national and even international attention on the institution,” Dr. Dickson said. “The Robert McDuffie Center for Strings is such a project and the Mansfield and Genelle Jennings Distinguished University Chair in Music will solidify the McDuffie Center’s reputation as a model for collegiate strings education in this country.”
Acclaimed soloist and chamber musician Elizabeth Pridgen, Distinguished Artist and Piano Chair in the McDuffie Center for Strings, was earlier this year appointed holder of the Center’s G. Leslie Fabian Endowed Chair of Music. She also serves as assistant professor of piano in the Townsend School of Music.
The Helen Wall Rich Endowed Professorship in Keyboard Performance was established by Ruth Anne Rich in late 2009 in memory of her mother. The professorship supports keyboard studies by recruiting and employing talented keyboard instructors. In May 2009, Rich endowed the Arthur Lowndes Rich Endowed Professorship in Choral Conducting in memory of her father. Helen and Arthur Rich are considered to be the founders of the music program at Mercer.
For more information about the McDuffie Center for Strings and Townsend School of Music, visit music.mercer.edu.