Article Contributed by Sacks and Company | Published on Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Rock legend and Gainesville, Florida Native Tom Petty will soon add Doctor to his running list of accolades. The late musician will be recognized by The University of Florida with an honorary Doctor of Music degree; a distinction he dreamt of receiving throughout his lifetime. Bruce Petty, Tom Petty’s brother, will accept the posthumous doctorate on his behalf at the university’s spring commencement ceremony tomorrow.

“I don’t think anyone in our family, including him, thought that he would be linked with the University of Florida this way,” says Bruce Petty. “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.”

To commemorate the degree, the university and estate have partnered to launch The Tom Petty Endowment for Guitars & Innovation to support the next generation of artists in the School of Music’s Guitar and new Music Business & Entrepreneurship programs. The Petty estate has donated $100,000 in his memory to begin its foundations. To continue Petty’s spirit of mentorship, you can donate to the endowment here.

University of Florida School of Music director Kevin Orr shares:

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.”

“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.

Additionally, 300 special limited edition commemorative posters of Shepard Fairey’s iconic An American Treasure artwork has been released today exclusively on the Tom Petty store. A portion of proceeds will be donated to the new Tom Petty Endowment for Guitars & Innovation.

The Cade Museum is also partnering with the UF School of Music to celebrate the conferral of Tom Petty’s honorary doctoral degree. On May 4, the Cade will host a sold-out showing of the award-winning documentary, Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free, which features never-before-seen footage, new interviews, and an inside look at Tom Petty’s creative process as he constructs his landmark 1994 album Wildflowers. Film Director Mary Wharton will be in attendance, doing a special Q&A at the event. Prior to the documentary screening, UF School of Music students will treat guests to a performance of Wildflowers tunes adapted for string quartet. Watch/share the critically acclaimed Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free here. The event celebrates the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Wildflowers exhibit that will open at the Cade Museum later this year.

Petty is widely recognized and remembered for his philanthropy and service to the communities he called home in Los Angeles and Gainesville, and his commitment to environmental causes. In partnership with the Tom Petty Estate, the university launched a capsule collection in tandem with the first inaugural Tom Petty Day last year, which celebrated the late singer, his connection to the university and his hometown—watch a recap of the celebration here. The Petty family donated all the estate proceeds from the festivities to local charities—Kids Count and Family Promise—together, with the university, they are donating over $175,000. Kids Count supports education and early childhood interventions with an emphasis on literacy, while Family Promise works to bring families out of homelessness by providing housing and employment resources. In addition to his rock star talent, Tom Petty was consistently one of the staunchest and most outspoken advocates for the rights of working artists. Petty leveraged his platform and celebrity stature to challenge inequitable practices in the music industry and fought to protect the intellectual property rights of musicians. He is the recipient of some of the highest honors in philanthropy, including Midnight Mission’s Golden Heart Award (2011), and MusicCares ‘Person of the Year’ at the 2017 Grammy Awards.