Walter F. Anderson, 88, a music professor, concert pianist and composer who was director of music programs at the National Endowment for the Arts for a decade and retired as special assistant to the NEA chairman, died of cancer Nov. 24 at Suburban Hospital. He lived in Washington.
Dr. Anderson chaired the music department at Antioch College for about 20 years before his NEA appointment in 1968. He developed concepts at the then-new agency for supporting music creation and performance, specifically for orchestras, operas, jazz and choral groups and conservatories, colleagues said. He also was credited with creating grant guidelines that became a model for other programs and for establishing a challenge grant concept used to leverage private-sector support for the arts.
He worked under NEA directors Roger L. Stevens, Nancy Hanks and Livingston Biddle before retiring in 1983. A decade later, the American Symphony Orchestra League named Dr. Anderson as one of 50 people whose talents and efforts had touched the lives of many orchestras in a significant way.
Dr. Anderson was born into a low-income family of nine children in Zanesville, Ohio. He was a musical prodigy, playing piano and organ professionally while still in elementary school.
He attended Oberlin College on a full scholarship and then studied music at the Berkshire Music Center and the Cleveland Institute of Music. He received the equivalent of a doctoral degree in 1952 as a fellow of the American Guild of Organists, and in the 1970s he was awarded four honorary doctorates.
Early in his career, he was chairman of the music department at Wilberforce University and directed music programs at Karamu House, a neighborhood arts center for underprivileged residents of the east side of Cleveland. He also began a 30-year side career as a concert pianist, playing across the United States and in Europe.
Dr. Anderson's appointment as head of Antioch's music department in 1946 was heralded as pioneering in academia when he was said to be the first African American named to chair a department outside of the nation's historically black colleges.
Over the years, he composed works for orchestra, chorus and string quartet. Among them was "Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra," commissioned by John Sebastian for a performance with the Cleveland Orchestra. Another was a commission by the Rosenwald Foundation, at the suggestion of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, called "D-Day Prayer Cantata." It was performed on a CBS telecast in 1950 for the sixth anniversary of the World War II invasion.
Dr. Anderson was a founding member of the organization now known as the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and a board member of Theater Chamber Players of Washington and Young Concert Artists of New York and Washington. He was a presidential fellow at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in 1978.
His marriage to Dorothy Anderson ended in divorce.
Survivors include his companion of 26 years, Richard Price of Washington; two children, Sandra Mastin of Chardon, Ohio, and David Anderson of Homestead, Fla.; a brother, Louis Anderson of Temple Hills, and three grandchildren.