As seen in the Winter/Spring 2014 edition of the Steinway Chronicle.
By today’s standards, $250 could buy a pleasant evening out in New York City, but what Jim Powell did with that seemingly modest sum in the form of a scholarship from Sears & Roebuck is nothing short of epic.
In 1955, Mr. Powell used the proceeds to attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. An animal science major whose entrepreneurial talents emerged so quickly that he soon shifted to business, the visionary resident from the small town of Limestone went on to create Powell Companies, one of the Volunteer State’s premier builders with more than 500 employees.
Jim Powell never forgot how that scholarship changed his life, and UT never overlooked an opportunity to tap into his boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm. Most recently, Jim and his wife Sandy, a fellow student whom he courted during his college years, spearheaded the $3.5 million campaign that made UT an All- Steinway School. With help from 58 donors, the team effort resulted in a purchase of 68 new pianos.
“Sandy and I feel strongly that our students deserve the opportunity to develop their talents on the best pianos in the world, so we are thrilled about the School of Music’s All-Steinway designation,” says Mr. Powell. He added that he could not imagine a better place to show off the instruments than the new Natalie L. Haslam Music Center.
The 123,000 square foot complex recently opened its doors to much fanfare on the UT campus, with a ribbon cutting ceremony that included Governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. Sen. Alexander later performed “Tennessee Waltz” on a Steinway, with the original manuscript of the iconic country song displayed atop the piano. He was among a group of donors who offered the authentic sheet music as a gift to UT. “The right home for the Magna Carta of country music is in the Natalie Haslam Music Center,” the senator said during a memorable presentation following the ceremony.
Natalie and husband Jim Haslam contributed $10 million to the project, estimated at more than $40 million, that consolidates performance and learning facilities in what Chancellor Jimmy Cheek calls the most advanced, state of the art music building in the nation, well equipped with 116 pianos by Steinway & Sons.
The center’s showpiece is the Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall, containing 400 navy-leathered seats and a Steinway concert grand on its stage. There are 45 practice rooms, eight classrooms, three computer labs, a music library and 40 performance studios, rehearsal rooms and offices within the building.
Dr. Jeffrey Pappas, Director of the School of Music in the College of Arts and Sciences, is humbled by the number of supporters “who believe in the school so much that they want us to have the finest instruments. The quest for excellence and distinction continues as we walk through these doors.”
Achieving All-Steinway status “positions the School of Music in a competitive advantage as we strive to retain and attract the best and brightest faculty and students,” adds Dr. Theresa Lee, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.