Alumna contributes $4 million to School of Music

By Kathleen Foody

When Dan Perrino asked Sheila Johnson why she would name an endowment chair after him instead of herself, she told him she already had enough awards in her name.

“She said it pleased her to share this with others,” Perrino said. “That’s the nature of Sheila; she’s a remarkable lady.”

Johnson, a 1970 graduate from the University’s School of Music, announced her donation of $4 million to create two endowment chairs for her alma mater Saturday.

Both were named after other members of the music education community and mentors to Johnson throughout her academic and professional career; the Dan Perrino Chair of Jazz Studies and the Susan Starrett Chair in Violin.

Starrett was Johnson’s orchestra director at Proviso East High School and contacted Perrino when she decided to attend the University.

“She called me and said ‘I’m sending Sheila to you, and you need to take care of her,'” said Perrino, a former University administrator. “I kind of became a surrogate father or older brother. She called me a mentor. I’m not sure I was, but whatever makes her happy.”

The University was struggling with racial divisions when Johnson began attending. There were only about 150 black students on campus in 1966, he said.

The skills – both musical and personal – Johnson gained at the University came in handy when she left.

She began teaching private violin lessons in Washington, D.C. and evolved them into a program based strongly on methods she learned at the School of Music. Her students gained a national reputation, Perrino said.

Johnson is the CEO of Salamander Hospitality, was a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television and is the first woman to have a stake in three professional sports teams.

“It’s a wonderful gift,” he said. “Four million dollars is a lot of money and when budgets are tight, gifts like hers make it possible for the school to enrich programs.”

The honor for Perrino has pleased other members of the School’s community, including Suzanne Hassler, coordinator for alumni relations and development.

“He’s been a mentor to me as well,” she said. “So to see him be recognized, I was very pleased personally.”

The value to the school means more to Perrino than any individual honor.

“Music schools are always competing for the most talented students,” he said. “Outstanding faculty attract outstanding students, and students attract more outstanding faculty.”