WASHINGTON (AP) — Michael Hammond, a lifelong student of how music and medicine are intertwined, died just a week after becoming chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. He was 69.
Hammond was found Tuesday at a home in Washington where he had been staying, NEA spokesman Mark Weinberg said. He had complained of feeling ill in recent days, and he appeared to have died of natural causes, Weinberg said.
"Michael Hammond was an accomplished conductor, composer and advocate of the arts," Bush said. "His commitment to excellence and his extraordinary talents will be greatly missed."
Hammond was dean of the School of Music at Rice University in Houston when President Bush nominated him to chair the federal agency that distributes grants for the arts. Confirmed by the Senate on Dec. 20, Hammond took over Jan. 22.
Senior deputy chairwoman Eileen Mason will serve as acting chairwoman until Bush nominates a successor to Hammond.
Ed Downing, president of the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, where Hammond had been vice chairman, said Hammond's death will deny the nation's arts the chance to benefit from his leadership and vision at the NEA.
Rice President Malcolm Gillis said the university was "permanently enriched by his vision, strength of character, integrity and indomitable spirit."
A native of Kenosha, Wis., Hammond received an undergraduate degree from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., then a Rhodes scholarship to study philosophy, psychology and physiology at Oxford University in England. He was particularly fascinated by music from Southeast Asia, the Renaissance and medieval times.
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 in 1986.
All the while, he retained his interest in the intersection between music and neuroscience, teaching neuroanatomy and physiology at Marquette Medical School and at the University of Wisconsin and lecturing annually at the Texas Medical Center.
The conductor and composer also had associations with various symphonies and vocal companies and wrote scores for several theaters. While at Rice, he designed a much-acclaimed new concert hall.
Among Hammond's goals for the arts agency, now funded at about $115 million after once being targeted for elimination by conservatives, were to get children interested in the arts early in life and to build a wider audience for the arts, Weinberg said.
Hammond is survived by his wife, Anne, and a son, Thomas.
Funeral arrangements are pending.