Fred W. Gretsch, the head of a family business that has helped shape American music history, will receive an honorary degree from Elmhurst College, his alma mater, at the College’s Spring Commencement on May 28, 2016.
Gretsch, who graduated from Elmhurst in 1971, is president of the Gretsch Company, founded by his great-grandfather in 1883 as a manufacturer of drums, tambourines and banjos. In the mid-20th century, the company became widely known as the drum-maker of choice for jazz artists such as Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones and as the producer of guitars wielded by many of the world’s most acclaimed guitar heroes, including Chet Atkins, George Harrison and Pete Townshend.
Fred Gretsch began working in the family business in the 1960s, and as a young man looked forward to taking his place as part of the fourth generation to run the Gretsch company. But in 1967, amid widespread change in the industry, the Baldwin Piano Company bought the Gretsch operation. Fred Gretsch continued working for the company, relocating to suburban Chicago from Brooklyn. He began studying business administration part-time at Elmhurst in 1969, and after graduating, went to work as an importer and wholesaler of musical instruments. But he vowed that he would one day make Gretsch a family business again.
After decades of effort, Gretsch made good on his vow, buying the business back from Baldwin in 1985. Today, Gretsch guitars and drums are again in demand by musicians who appreciate their craftsmanship, tone and classic style.
Fred Gretsch, his family company and the Gretsch Foundation have been generous supporters of the College and its Department of Music, funding scholarships for students of music and music business and providing key support for the state-of-the-art Gretsch Recording Studio. The music department’s ensembles perform exclusively on Gretsch drum kits.
“As a night school student at Elmhurst, I appreciated the course offerings and flexible schedule while I was working a full-time day job,” said Fred Gretsch. “You might say the College and I invested in one another over those early years, and it’s been fun to continue the relationship musically in the years since.”
This year’s Spring Commencement will, for the first time, feature separate ceremonies for undergraduate and graduate students. The featured speaker at the undergraduate commencement will be Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Alzada Tipton. Interim President Larry Braskamp will speak at the graduate ceremony.
Elmhurst College confers honorary degrees on individuals whose commitments and achievements embody the College’s mission, vision and core values.