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$5 Million Gift to Oberlin for Jazz May Be Largest Ever

A $5 million gift to Oberlin College by a Cleveland couple may be the largest gift ever given specifically to support jazz education at a U.S. college. The gift by businessman Stewart Kohl and his wife, Donna, was announced last month by Oberlin College President Nancy Dye. Stewart is a 1977 graduate of the university and is a managing partner of equity firm the Riverside Company.

The donation will be used to construct a new facility for the jazz studies program, which, when completed, will be dedicated to the memory of Phyllis Litoff. She and her husband were longtime friends of Kohl and opened the Sweet Basil Jazz Club in Greenwich Village and founded the Greenwich Village Jazz Festival.

While neither Stewart nor Donna were musicians, “We do enjoy music as patrons and believe in its powerful civilizing role. Since joining the Oberlin College Board of Trustees, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of the Conservatory,” Stewart said in a press release.

Besides the monetary importance of the gift, Dean of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music David Stull said the Kohl gift sends a strong message that jazz is worthy of substantial financial support.

“In a single philanthropic gesture, the Kohls have created a benchmark that all jazz programs should strive for,” Stull said. “This is a marvelous gift for Oberlin’s jazz program, but it is also terrific news for all those who seek to improve financial support for jazz study in American higher education.”

Oberlin Conservatory first incorporated jazz into its curriculum in 1972 and, in 1989, began offering a major in Jazz Studies.

Originally Published