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This year’s honorary doctorate recipients are being recognized for their achievements and influences in music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture. Past recipients include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Steven Tyler, Loretta Lynn, Juan Luis Guerra, Annie Lennox, Paco de Lucía, Carole King, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, George Clinton, Rita Moreno, Lionel Richie, Julio Iglesias, Plácido Domingo, and A. R. Rahman.
As is Berklee’s tradition, on commencement eve, Friday, May 11, students will pay tribute to the honorees by performing music associated with their careers. The concert and ceremony, both at Agganis Arena, are not open to the public.
One of the country’s preeminent singer-songwriters, Rosanne Cash has released 15 albums of extraordinary songs that have earned four Grammy Awards and 11 Grammy nominations. She is also an author whose four books include the best-selling memoir Composed, which the Chicago Tribune called “one of the best accounts of an American life you’ll likely ever read.” She was awarded the SAG/AFTRA Lifetime Achievement Award for Sound Recordings in 2012, and received the 2014 Smithsonian Ingenuity Award in the Performing Arts. In 2015, she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Her latest album, The River and the Thread, a collaboration with her husband, cowriter, producer, and arranger, John Leventhal, has garnered impressive worldwide acclaim, including three Grammy Awards in 2015. Cash and Leventhal are currently writing the music and lyrics for a musical. She plans on releasing an album of new material in 2018.
Among music legends, Nile Rodgers is exceptional. He amplifies his legacy as a multi-Grammy-winning composer, producer, arranger, and guitarist by constantly traversing new musical terrain and successfully expanding the boundaries of popular music. As the cofounder of the band Chic, Rodgers pioneered a musical language that generated chart-topping pop hits like “Le Freak” and sparked the advent of hip-hop with “Good Times.” His work in the Chic Organization and his productions for artists such as David Bowie and Madonna have sold more than 300 million albums and 50 million singles worldwide, while his innovative, trendsetting collaborations with Daft Punk, Avicii, Disclosure, and Sam Smith reflect the vanguard of contemporary music. Fueling four decades of pop anthems with more than 200 production credits to his name, the scope of Rodgers’s peerless influence is undeniable.
Esperanza Spalding graduated in 2005 from Berklee, where she majored in professional music. She made history upon graduation by becoming one of the youngest instructors in the college’s history. This was just the tip of the iceberg, however, as Spalding went on in 2011 to become the first jazz musician to win the Grammy for Best New Artist. At 33, with seven collaborative and five solo albums, Spalding has always resolutely, intuitively, and deftly expanded upon both her art and herself as a world-renowned genre-bending composer, bassist, and vocalist. Her work, grounded in jazz traditions but never bound by them, has won her four Grammy Awards and brought her onstage at the Oscars, the Nobel Prize ceremony, the White House, and with Prince and Herbie Hancock. Spalding’s newest release, Exposure, is a 10-song album written and recorded in 77 hours with every moment streamed via Facebook Live.
Featured Esperanza Spalding photo by Carmen Daneshmandi.