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National Music Museum appoints new director

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Larry Schou, D.M.A., dean of the College of Fine Arts of the University of South Dakota, and Tom Lillibridge, chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Music Museum, announced today that the university and the trustees have selected Cleveland T. Johnson, Ph.D., as the director of the National Music Museum (NMM). Johnson will join NMM on Nov. 1. He recently stepped down as executive director of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship at the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, New York City. He served in that post while on leave as professor of music at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., where he also served as dean of the School of Music.

Johnson holds a D.Phil. in Music from Oxford University in England, and a B.Mus. with a double major in Music History and Organ Performance from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Ohio.

“Cleveland Johnson is an experienced music historian, professor, dean, and nonprofit administrator. He is well published in the areas of organ music and world music topics, and brings the combination of passion for music and administrative and academic experience we sought,” said Schou. “USD is excited to bring to the NMM his visionary leadership as a successful music-school dean and nonprofit executive with a growing track record in fundraising.”

Schou continued, “Johnson comes from a community with parallels to Vermillion, as Greencastle is also a small Midwestern university town. DePauw University has a fine School of Music, and Johnson spent some years living in India and has a strong interest in South Indian music and instruments. With Johnson’s recent experience running an international foundation program in New York City, he will bring fresh ideas and big dreams to our museum.”

“I am honored to have this opportunity to lead the NMM,” Johnson said, “and to build upon the remarkable collections and publications that have established the Museum’s prominence in the nation and the world. The NMM holds an extraordinary collection of musical instruments – probably the most comprehensive in the world; and the Museum is a keystone of the university’s cultural and academic prominence. I anticipate working closely with President James Abbott of USD and Steve Brown of the USD Foundation to help meet the university’s future goals; and to being part of the university community and collaborating with faculty across USD. I have been very impressed by the commitment of the NMM’s Board of Trustees, staff members and the University community, and I am eager to join this team of talented staff, board members, volunteers and graduate students.”

“I grew up in Norfolk, Va., spent eight years abroad in Germany, England and India for study and research, and spent my academic career in Greencastle. I’m looking forward to relocating to Vermillion and becoming part of the community. I hope to work closely with Mayor Jack Powell and the city as well as collaborating with the South Dakota Department of Tourism.”

“I salute and will continue to encourage the NMM’s outstanding education programs for school children and its well-regarded master’s degree program, which is unique in North America. As the father of seven children/stepchildren, I value opportunities for people of all ages to engage with the Museum and to be inspired by its extraordinary objects and unique programming. I aim to increase the visibility and use of the Museum as a national and international resource for both scholars and the public.”

Johnson will take the reins from Margaret (Peggy) Downie Banks, Ph.D., the Museum’s senior curator, who has been interim director since March 2011, when founding director André Larson retired after 39 years. Banks will continue as interim director until Johnson’s arrival.

“Peggy has moved the NMM forward in many areas as Interim Director, and we are very grateful for her dedication, service and many contributions in taking on this position,” Schou said. “This is a very smooth transition, and the continued growth and success of NMM is secure.”

The Search Committee was headed by Dr. Schou and included four Trustee Board members; Tom Lillibridge, Richard Cutler, Claire Givens and Jo Wohlenberg; two Museum staff members: John Koster and Deborah Check Reeves; and music school faculty representative Susanne Skyrm. For the international search, USD retained Marilyn Hoffman of Museum Search & Reference, a museum executive-recruiting firm in Manchester, N.H.

“We are greatly anticipating the arrival of Cleveland Johnson, and looking forward to his leadership in the coming years,” Lillibridge stated. “We feel that Cleveland will be a strong successor to Andre Larson’s leadership legacy. During the interview process we were all very impressed with Cleveland’s vision for the future of the museum. The NMM Trustees know that our strong relationship with USD will continue to grow and that the new director will help provide additional guidance in this area.”

A photo of Johnson is available for download at

The National Music Museum is located on the campus of USD at 414 East Clark Street and is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. The entry fee is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and is free to students, children, USD students and USD staff. Admission on Fridays is always free. Please visit for more information and a virtual tour.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 78 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.

This material is available in an alternate format upon request. Please contact University Relations at 605-677-5759. If you are a person with a disability and need a special accommodation to fully participate in any university activity or event, please contact Disability Services at 605-677-6389 as soon as possible, but no later than 48 hours before the event, so that appropriate arrangements may be made.


Hanna DeLange
USD News