Stephen Adams, Who Made Yale Music School Tuition-Free, Dies at 86

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A billionaire businessman and a late-blooming piano aficionado, he set a record with the anonymous $100 million gift that he and his wife gave the school.

Stephen Adams, a billionaire whose anonymous $100 million gift to the Yale School of Music granted a tuition-free education to talented students embarking on careers in a capricious profession, died on March 14 at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 86.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Denise (Rhea) Adams.

Mr. Adams, who graduated from Yale College in 1959, was not a musician himself. But after he turned 55 and was already a prosperous business executive and wine collector, he became an amateur piano player.

In 1999, he marked his class’s 40th-anniversary reunion by donating $10 million to the music school — the largest contribution it had ever received. Six years later, he and his wife surpassed that record when they made their $100 million gift, anonymously.

They did not publicly reveal their identity as the donors until 2008, when Mr. Adams was asked to confirm their contribution by an interviewer from Wine Spectator magazine. He agreed to do so then, he said, to spur other contributors as his 50th-anniversary class reunion approached.

“My wife and I are Christians, and the Bible speaks of giving in secret,” Mr. Adams told The Yale Daily News in 2009.

In that same article, Michael Friedmann, a professor of theory and chamber music, said, “Musicians, as opposed to doctors or lawyers, are not in a position to repay educational loans easily, and the profession has a capricious opportunity structure.” He added, “The new financial conditions at the school, however, put musicians in a very different position in relation to their post-Yale careers.”

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