Welcome to the Big Brain House (built upon the genius of Led Zep)

Widow of Atlantic Records founder gives Oxford £26m for spectacular study centre

Rock music has often been cited as a bad influence on the young. Yet a relationship that started with Led Zeppelin's reunion has culminated in a programme to bring the finest humanities students from around the world to a Georgian house in Oxford where they will set about expanding "the sum of human knowledge".

The widow of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun yesterday announced the £26m programme to back graduate scholarships, the most generous humanities donation in the university's 900-year history. The programme has already received thousands of applications for the 15 scholarships in areas including literature, history, music and archaeology. Those places will later rise to 35.

Mica Ertegun said the study of humanities had been "one of the great joys" of her and her husband's life. "In these times of so much strife in the world, I believe it is tremendously important to support those things that endure across time," she said yesterday.

Mr Ertegun, the son of a Turkish diplomat, became one of the most powerful men in the music industry. He set up Atlantic Records in 1947 before his 25th birthday, and the label went on to define American music and shape the careers of stars including John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. He also brought British stars to prominence in the US including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees.

His death in 2006 at the age of 83 prompted Led Zeppelin to reform for a tribute concert, with more than 20 million fans registering their interest. Bassist John Paul Jones, who attended yesterday's announcement in London, described Mr Ertegun as "more rock and roll than all of us put together".

Proceeds from the show – which marked the first time the band had played together in 19 years – went to fund scholarships at educational institutions including Oxford and started the relationship with Ahmet's widow, Mica.

Yesterday marked a significant expansion of those initial scholarships. Students lucky enough to receive backing will also gain access to Ertegun House, a five-storey Georgian building in the heart of Oxford which is being fully refitted in time for the start of the Michaelmas term in September.

The house will offer a place for the students to socialise, and will be the venue for a special programme of lectures, concerts and other events. They will be mentored by a senior scholar in residence. The university's vice-chancellor, Andrew Hamilton, described the donation as a "significant moment for the study of the humanities" at a time when government support for the subjects was under "intense pressure".

Mrs Ertegun said: "My dream is that, one day, Ertegun scholars will be leaders in every field. As historians and philosophers, as archaeologists and literary scholars, as writers and composers, as statesmen and theologians."

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