Michael P. Hammond, new chief of the National Endowment for the Arts, was found dead Jan. 29, just one week after beginning his job. He was 69.
He had complained of feeling ill since the weekend, and his death was apparently of natural causes, though final medical reports were still pending. He was found in the Washington, D.C., home where he had been staying since taking on the task of guiding the U.S. government agency.
Composer-conductor and Rhodes scholar devoted his long career to music education and was serving as dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice U. in Houston when President Bush nominated him last year..
In 1968, he left his post as director of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee to become the founding dean of music at the State University of New York at Purchase. He later served as president of the school, until he left for Rice U.’s Shepherd School in 1986.
He was a founding dean of music for a new arts campus at the State U. of New York in Purchase and also founded the Pepsico Summerfare, a major international festival of the arts in Purchase. Additionally, he was founding rector of the Prague Mozart Academy (now the European Mozart Academy) in what is now the Czech Republic.
Throughout his career, Hammond sat on the boards of major symphonies, including the Houston Symphony.
Until Bush finds a replacement for Hammond, senior NEA deputy chair Eileen Mason will serve as interim topper.
Kenosha, Wis., native, also a student of medicine, had interests in music from Southeast Asia, the Renaissance and medieval times and focused on the intersection between music and neuroscience.
He received an undergraduate degree from Lawrence U. in Appleton, Wis., and then the Rhodes scholarship to study philosophy, psychology and physiology at Oxford University. He also studied Indian philosophy and music at Delhi U. in India.
All the while, he retained his interest in medicine, teaching neuroanatomy and physiology at Marquette Medical School and at the U. of Wisconsin. He also lectured annually at the Texas Medical Center on health care and the arts. And in 1999, he gave the keynote address to the Intl. Conference on the Neuroscience of Music in Japan.
While at Rice, he designed a much-acclaimed new concert hall and, in March 2000, directed a production of Stravinsky’s opera “The Rake’s Progress.”
Hammond was still in the process of charting a course for the federal arts agency, but he had already made it known that getting children interested in the arts early in life and building a wider audience for the arts among the general public were among his top interests.
He is survived by his wife, Anne, and a son, Thomas, who is a professional actor in New York.