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Matthews Leaves Cherished Instruments to School of Music

Mary Bess Matthews

Mary Bess Matthews after a performance in March of 1998.

The University of Southern Mississippi School of Music gained three violins, three mandolins and an impressive music library through a generous planned gift in-kind appraised at nearly $100,000 from the estate of Mary Bess Matthews.

Hattiesburg native and resident of New Orleans since 1949, Mary Bess Matthews was an accomplished musician. From piano lessons to voice and violin training, she grew up with a rich musical foundation. As Matthews matured, playing the violin developed into her true passion. After taking several violin courses at Southern Miss, she was asked to perform with the USM Symphony Orchestra as a high-school student.

Described by her friends as a brilliant woman, Matthews held two bachelor's degrees from Baylor University, one in art and one in music, and a master's degree in religious education from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. With her beloved violin, Hortense, Matthews played in the Austin and San Antonio symphonies for two seasons and the New Orleans Symphony for 28 years. She also recorded for local musicians and planned music for St. Anna's Episcopal Church.

Many years after Matthews' time with the USM Symphony Orchestra, she saw them perform in New Orleans and was filled with pride to have been part of such an incredible group. This encounter reminded her fondly of growing up in Hattiesburg and attending classes at Southern Miss, solidifying her decision to one day give back to the program that was instrumental in her development as a musician.

The violins and mandolins will be available in the School of Music for use by promising students in coursework, auditions, degree recitals, competitions and other significant performances. Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music and recognized regionally as one of the leading schools of music, The University of Southern Mississippi School of Music provides an ideal home for the instruments to be played by talented musicians. Golden Eagles will benefit immensely from access to Matthews' instruments as they gain a wealth of opportunities for their professional and artistic growth.

"This extraordinary gift is greatly appreciated by the School of Music and will make a tremendous difference in the quality of playing our students are able to achieve," said Dr. Jay Dean, director of orchestral activities and professor of music. "A student is only as good as the quality of instrument they are performing on, so these impeccable instruments will make a huge impact on our students' abilities to perform to their highest potential."

Upon Matthews' passing in April 2016, friends, family and loved ones sent memorial gifts to The University of Southern Mississippi. Through the generosity of these gifts, the Mary Bess Matthews Memorial Orchestral Annual Scholarship was established, which will support students who share Matthews' dedication, passion and love of classical music.

Through an annual scholarship and valuable collection of instruments, Matthews' life of music will touch the lives of many musicians to come at Southern Miss.

Learn how you, too, can make a difference in the lives of students at The University of Southern Mississippi. Simply contact Daniel Barton at 601.266.6428 or daniel.barton@usm.edu to get started today, at no obligation.

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