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How Led Zeppelin helped to pay for dreaming spires 22 octobre 2012

Posted by Acturca in Academic / Académique, Art-Culture, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Times (UK) October 22, 2012, p. 13

Richard Morrison

Sex,drugs, rock’n’roll…and the University of Oxford. From now on, two disparate worlds are eternally linked. This term, 16 postgraduate humanities students are taking up scholarships at Britain’s oldest seat of learning — courtesy of a £26 million gift from Mica Ertegun, the widow of the Turkish-American record mogul who founded Atlantic Records and nurtured the careers of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton and Ray Charles among many others

It’s an unlikely benefaction, to say the least — given that neither Mica nor Ahmet Ertegun had the slightest connection with the university. « I could have chosen Cambridge, but I came to visit friends in Oxford and fell in love with the place, » Mica says disarmingly.

And the story becomes yet more bizarre when you know that Oxford’s stupendous windfall — the largest single gift for the study of non-science subjects in the university’s 900-year history — was triggered by the break-up (and subsequent reunion) of Led Zeppelin. When Ahmet Ertegun died in 2006 a massive tribute concert was organised in the States. Everyone turned up — except Led Zeppelin. « They hadn’t spoken to each other for eight years, » Mica says. « In fact they hated each other, and hated all the other musicians taking part as well. »

But miraculously the following year Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones buried the hatchet and presented their own Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 arena in London. Reputedly, 20 million people applied online for tickets. « Afterwards Robert came up, handed me £2 million of the takings and said, ‘Do something in Ahmet’s name’, » Mica recalls. « So I thought, as they come from England and so do the concert proceeds, I should set up something here. »

She used the money initially to endow two Oxford scholarships specifically for Turkish students. « You know, Ahmet was much more American than Turkish — he came to America when he was 14 [the son of the Turkish ambassador] and never left. But at the end of his life he rediscovered his Turkish roots, » she says. Then she decided to expand vastly the scholarship idea, using her own money. Eventually, after her death, there will be 35 postgrads on what’s grandly named the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Graduate Scholarship Programme in the Humanities.

The idea is very much for those students to be drawn from around the globe. « Ahmet came from Turkey, I was a refugee from Romania, » she says. « We both believed that the more you mix people, the more understanding there is. Actually I’m a little disappointed that this year we didn’t get more people from places like China and Afghanistan. Next year we will have a better spread. »

Why did she specify the humanities, bucking the insidious modern trend to value research in science, technology and medicine above culture and history? « There has to be humanity in our lives, » she replies. « Yes, Ahmet went into the record business. But he never forgot his education at one of those tough American colleges where you have to read practically every book ever written. It fed into everything he did. And his memory was phenomenal. He could do deals with the Rolling Stones by day, then come home and recite ancient literature. »

Mica, a leading New York interior designer, has supervised the lavish refurbishment of Ertegun House, a five-storey Georgian building in Oxford (just around the corner from the Ashmolean) where the new scholars will have study areas, common rooms and even a small outdoor amphitheatre. But did she have any hand in selecting the students? « Please, no! » she says. « That’s the professors’ job. I don’t want friends calling me and saying, ‘Can you get my daughter into Oxford?’. »


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