by Max Brantley
J.W. and Emily McAllister, alumni of the University of Arkansas, have given $1 million to the UA for the project to make the college an "All-Steinway School," or equipped with the famous pianos.
UA NEWS RELEASE
When the University of Arkansas announced its commitment to becoming an All-Steinway School nearly one year ago, a new chapter began for the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences’ music department. What also started to take shape was a greater experience for students and faculty and for the many alumni and friends who enjoy musical performances on campus throughout the year.
For one alumni couple, J.W. and Emily McAllister of Memphis, this announcement was welcomed with a desire to get involved. One half of the couple’s generous gift of $1 million establishes a piano fund in their name to support the purchase and maintenance of the instruments brought to the University of Arkansas through the All-Steinway School initiative. The other half of the gift is designated as a challenge, which will provide matching funds to encourage others to contribute to this program.
“I’ve been a pianist all my life,” said Emily McAllister. “I can’t remember not playing, but I do remember the bad shape the instruments were in while I was a student. I thought it would be so wonderful for students to have good instruments to play, both in practice rooms and during performances. Steinway means quality, and it has always been a name that I admire and respect. I have enjoyed my own Steinway for many years.”
Steinway brand pianos are the preferred instruments of more than 99 percent of the concert artists worldwide.
“We have a strong commitment to the arts at the University of Arkansas,” said Chancellor G. David Gearhart. “Becoming an All-Steinway School was an important step as we strive to attract the very best faculty and the highest achieving students possible. J.W. and Emily are very generous benefactors who have a sincere passion for music and for student success, and this gift will serve as a tremendous catalyst for our arts and music programs. Through their amazing philanthropy, they are also inspiring others to step forward and assist the university.”
The University of Arkansas is one of only 123 schools in the world — including conservatories, colleges, universities and other schools of distinction — that have attained the All-Steinway honor.
“The All-Steinway School designation means our students and faculty now have the very best instruments to perfect their art and craft,” said Jura Margulis, holder of the Emily J. McAllister Endowed Professorship in Piano and internationally recognized concert pianist and pedagogue. “It is because of such rare people like J.W. and Emily that we are able to provide exceptional educational and performance experiences to a group of already gifted musicians and attract new talent to the U of A.”
Supporting the University of Arkansas has been a priority for the McAllisters for some time. In 2004, the couple contributed more than $500,000 to establish the McAllister Honors College Fellowships in Business in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Four years later, they endowed the Emily J. McAllister Endowed Professorship in Piano in the Fulbright College with an additional $500,000 gift.
“The institution — as it has for many people — provided us with a career path, and it’s also where we met one another,” said J.W. McAllister. “It was a key element to where we are, who we are, and what we are today.”
The McAllisters met on the University of Arkansas campus in a freshman English class, and they both graduated in 1960. J.W. McAllister earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in accounting. He is also a graduate of Stanford University's Executive Program. While at the University of Arkansas, J.W. McAllister was a member of Sigma Nu and Omicron Delta Kappa and was president of Beta Alpha Psi and Beta Gamma Sigma. He was a financial executive and retired as a vice president of Harrah's Entertainment Inc.
Emily McAllister received a Bachelor of Science in Education (music) from the university and holds a Master of Music in organ performance from the University of Memphis. Since the age of 15, she has been a professional organist and pianist. During her college years, she was the organist at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville.
The McAllisters are active in volunteer work, particularly with the Memphis Symphony and various other arts and educational endeavors. The couple has three sons and five grandchildren. Their eldest son is also a University of Arkansas alumnus.