On Friday, university officials paid tribute to Gainesville’s most famous resident at a board of trustees meeting. The board unanimously voted to award Petty a posthumous doctoral degree in music. The “Free Fallin'” singer was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida. Additionally, he once worked as a groundskeeper at UF while he chased his music career dreams. However, he never attended the university or enrolled in any classes.
In October 2017, Tom Petty passed away from an accidental drug overdose. Later that week during the Florida Gators’ home football game, the stadium played his hit single “I Won’t Back Down” as a memorial to the famous musician. Ever since, the song has become a tradition at Gators home games.
University provost Joseph Glover read a motion at the Friday meeting awarding Thomas Earl Petty the Ph.D. in music.
“(Tom Petty is) widely considered among the most distinctive and influential musicians over the past 50 years,” Glover said. “His presence remains significant as seen by abundant radio airplay and the popularity of events such as the Tom Petty birthday bash held in Gainesville. On the UF campus, Petty’s famous ‘I Won’t Back Down’ has become a mantra at athletic events. And I personally have heard President (Kent) Fuchs sing it.”
Petty is well-known for working with backing band The Heartbreakers, and rose to fame in the 1970s. He went on to sell more than 80 million records, which featured numerous hits like “Refugee”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “American Girl,” and many more. In 2002, Jakob Dylan inducted Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
New Tom Petty Documentary Released in October
A new documentary about Tom Petty’s life and career in the early 1990s came out on what would’ve been the legendary musician’s 71st birthday.
In fact, Tom Petty’s daughter had a chance encounter with veteran music documentarian Mary Wharton. Their meeting led to the new documentary, Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free: The Making of Wildflowers. The movie focuses on one of the most prolific era’s of the rocker’s life around the time of his band’s Wildflowers recordings.
Wharton spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock in late October about the documentary, which has been in the works since last year. However, she actually met the musician in 1994 as a young producer when he was recording his famous late-career album Wildflowers.
“I was completely charmed by him. Obviously, I was young and just starting my career, and he was certainly not the first celebrity I had met. But the first one of my kind of rock ‘n’ roll idols. … He was so charming and gracious, and struck me as just a really lovely southern gentleman. He was so smart and articulate and well-spoken,” Wharton said to UCR.
“And that interview that he did that day, we used a number of pieces from that interview in the film that we were able to license. He’s just really thoughtful and lovely in that interview. I’ll always treasure that memory of meeting him that day,” she added.