At its 145th Commencement on Saturday, May 28, Elmhurst College awarded an honorary doctoral degree to alumnus Fred W. Gretsch, the fourth-generation leader of a family business that has helped shape American music history.
Elmhurst confers honorary degrees on individuals whose achievements embody the College’s mission, vision and core values. Gretsch, Class of 1971, was recognized with an honorary Doctor of Music degree for his ongoing contributions to the music industry, as well as to his and his family’s stated mission, “to enrich people’s lives through music.” In keeping with this mission, Gretsch, his family company and the Gretsch Foundation have been generous supporters of Elmhurst College and its Department of Music. They have funded student scholarships in music and music business, and their support was instrumental in developing the Gretsch Recording Studio. In addition, the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble is named for Fred Gretsch, and last fall a partnership he facilitated has enabled the exclusive use of Gretsch drum kits for all performances.
“We’re proud of our longstanding relationship with the Gretsch Family, the Gretsch Foundation and the Gretsch Company,” said Peter Griffin, chair of the music department. “Their generosity provides our students with opportunities they might not otherwise enjoy, and we look forward to a continuing partnership in providing our students with the best possible educational experiences.”
The Gretsch Company was founded by Fred Gretsch’s great-grandfather in 1883 as a manufacturer of drums, tambourines and banjos. By the early 1920s the Brooklyn-based company had become the largest instrument manufacturer in America, and had established its distribution headquarters in Chicago. Fred Gretsch began working in the family business in the 1960s, looking forward to the day that he would take his place as its leader. But in 1967 widespread change in the industry led to the sale of the Gretsch operation to the Baldwin Piano Company.
Gretsch continued working for the company, moving his family from Brooklyn to suburban Chicago, where he studied business administration at Elmhurst College. After graduating in 1971 he founded his own operation, importing and wholesaling musical instruments. But he vowed that he would one day make Gretsch a family business again. In 1985 Fred made good on his vow, buying the company back from Baldwin. Today, Gretsch guitars and drums are again in demand by musicians for their craftsmanship, tone and classic style.
“Fred Gretsch’s support has helped us develop one of the top music business programs in the country,” said Tim Hays, director of Elmhurst College’s music business program. “The College, the music department and generations of students have benefited from his vision and generosity—from the Gretsch Music Business Student Scholarship Fund to his multiple gifts that have allowed us to build and continually upgrade our state-of-the art Gretsch Recording Studio.”
After receiving his honorary degree Gretsch said, “I’m grateful and I’m honored. When it comes to enriching people’s lives through music around the country and around the world, I recognize that Elmhurst is a great place to start. I look forward to working with the College to create more music-makers in the generations ahead.”