In 2002, real estate investor and philanthropist W.E. Singleton committed $2 million to VCU, specifically to support the VCU Jazz Studies Program’s ensembles and student resources. Singleton’s commitment to VCU includes an initial outright gift, then additional monies during his lifetime and in his estate. At the time, his gift was the largest ever made in the U.S. to support university-level jazz education.
“We’re delighted,” said Antonio García, director of the VCU Jazz Studies Program. “I applaud his generosity and willingness to support a program that encompasses many forms of jazz.”
“… one of the premier jazz programs in the country. … The largest donation ever in the United States to support university-level jazz education is definitely a cause for celebration.”
“This is a spectacular gift,” said Victor Goines, VCU jazz alumnus and director of Jazz Studies for The Juilliard School. “VCU’s Jazz Studies Program is already one of the best and it’s no surprise that it has attracted the generosity of a patron of this caliber.”
The gift’s purpose — to support the program’s ensembles and student resources — is intentionally wide in scope.
“This gives us a lot of flexibility to fund musical instrument repair and purchase, guest artist visits, faculty and student ensemble recording, travel towards recruitment and, potentially, student scholarships,” said García.
Because the gift will arrive in gradual increments, scholarships will likely become more of a reality once sufficient funds have accumulated to establish an endowment for that purpose.
The Jazz Studies Program is one of the significant strengths of VCU’s internationally known School of the Arts.
“I am so pleased that W.E. Singleton has chosen to invest in this magnificent way in one of the nation’s great schools of the arts and design,” stated VCU School of the Arts Dean Richard Toscan. “Mr. Singleton’s focus on jazz performance confirms the stellar reputation and high quality of the VCU Jazz Studies Program, and will continually strengthen the education of our students and performances for our community. We will be proud to have his name on the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts.”
About W.E. Singleton
In recognition of this gift, VCU’s performing arts center was formally named the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts.
Singleton is managing general partner of Crenshaw-Singleton Properties, a local real estate investment firm whose portfolio includes The Ironfronts, the J.C. Penney Building, the Verizon Building and the Bon Air Shopping Center. He has been an enthusiastic jazz fan for more than 50 years and has been a personal friend of such jazz legends as Louis Armstrong, Zutty Singleton, Maxine Sullivan, Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison and Count Basie.
His major philanthropic efforts began in 1995 when he partially funded the W.E. Singleton VoTech Center at Elk Hill Farm in Goochland County. In 1999 he contributed the Library at the Gables at Blackstone College in memory of his mother and aunt, both of whom were graduates of the college. He also conceived and partially funded the Singleton Chapel, presently under construction on the Elk Hill campus.
“I think I’ve done about as much as I can do for Elk Hill,” Singleton said. “I decided to turn to my first love, other than family, friends and business, and that’s jazz. My involvement with jazz has enabled me to take a special interest in VCU’s Jazz Studies Program.”
“I am very impressed with Tony García,” said Singleton. “He’s a real professional, an enthusiastic educator and a gentleman. Plus, Tony can speak my jazz language and he knows of my favorite musicians alive today. Tony’s presence at VCU helps confirm my great pride in making a commitment that is intended to have a long-lasting impact on the education of jazz students and the presentation of jazz.”
“I have some good memories from VCU’s Jazz Studies Program,” added Victor Goines. “The addition of Tony García has added greatly to its diversity.”
James W. Black Music Center
In March 2005 Singleton announced an additional $1 million commitment in memory of his long-time friend, jazz pianist James W. Black. In honor of the gift, the VCU Music Center building on Grove Avenue was renamed the James W. Black Music Center on Oct. 16, 2005. Black’s death in 2004 stunned a host of devoted friends and jazz fans.
The Oct. 16 dedication concert featured traditional New Orleans-style jazz artist Tom Saunders and the Midwest All-Stars; guitarist, banjo player and vocalist “Fast Eddie” Erickson; vocalist Steve Bassett and the music of the Jimmy Black Trio and the Daniel Clarke Quartet. All of the artists had played significant roles in the musical friendship of Singleton and Black.
“I’ve heard a lot of jazz piano players over the last 55 years,” said Singleton. “Most of them play well, but not all of them make music. In the good ones that do, I hear style, creativity, subtle tempos and key changes and the general feeling of the fun of jazz. I heard it in Erroll Garner and I heard it in Fats Waller. And I heard it in Jimmy.”