It Started With a Recital: How Detroit Symphony Landed a Bequest

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) recently received $2.9 million from the estate of Dr. Clyde and Helen Wu to support music education programs through the Wu Family Academy for Learning & Engagement. The late couple became involved with music education at the Detroit Symphony two decades ago, and in 2014, the program was renamed in their honor. 

The story about how this music-loving family found the Detroit Symphony and became steady patrons of music education doesn't begin in the Motor City, though. In fact, it doesn't even begin on American soil. 

More than 50 years ago, John Wu, a young doctor at the time, went to a music recital in Hong Kong, where Helen Wu, a young pianist, was performing. After the show, Wu introduced himself to Helen and the rest is history. In the United States, Wu attended Johns Hopkins and Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, graduating from Columbia in 1956. He became an accomplished cardiologist and served as associate clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University. He was also on staff at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn. Helen continued her passion for music and the family also started to give back.

In the 1980s, the Wus presented a gift to construct a piano practice room in Bard Hall, a medical school residence at Columbia. Other philanthropy includes gifts to establish four Clyde and Helen Wu Professorships and a $10 million gift to permanently endow the Clyde and Helen Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology. 

The Wus also started going to the Detroit Symphony, a love affair that lasted a half-century. Wu was the founding member of the Friends of Asian Arts at the Detroit Institute of Art, and served on the board of directors of the Detroit Symphony as chair of the education committee. Wu, along with Helen, helped lead the committee through a nationwide search for its first full-time education administrator, and in the development of a music education program. 

Often, the seeds of big gifts were planted years or even decades earlier. Wu's engagement at DSO on the board side led to philanthropic engagements down the line, which are now being continued by the family's children. 

As David Wu puts it, "I am so proud that my parents’ legacy will live on at the DSO, helping to permanently sustain the training programs that they loved so much... They have set an incredible example for our family, by paving the way for this gift years ago."

And that, folks, should be music to anyone's ears.