Berklee Today

Franklin, Etheridge, Scheiner, and McGhee Honored at 2006 Commencement

 

 

 

 
  From the left: Andy McGhee, Elliot Scheiner, Melissa Etheridge, Aretha Franklin, and Roger Brown during the 2006 commencement ceremony May 13
  Photography by Phil Farnsworth

Commencement festivities covering the weekend of May 12 and 13, juxtaposed the excitement of new graduates contemplating the beginning of their careers with a look back at the careers of famed music biz heroes. On hand for the occasion to receive honorary doctorates were the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, rock singer Melissa Etheridge, studio engineer/producer Elliot Scheiner, and jazz saxophonist and Berklee Professor Emeritus Andy McGhee.

The events began on a rainy Friday evening with the traditional commencement concert produced by Rob Rose and the Yo Team production staff. The night showcased the talents of more than 40 student performers (with 30 graduating seniors among them) in a musical tribute to this year's four honorees.

Among the many highlights in the 18-song program were Rebecca Muir's take on Etheridge's hit "I'm the Only One." Muir struck the right blend of grit, power, and angst to put the tune over and connect with the crowd. The song also spotlighted some wrenching Strat work by guitarist Akira Ishiguro. Vocalist Major "Choirboy" Johnson sang Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is," a nod to Elliot Schiener who produced the original. Another Etheridge tribute performed by harpist and vocalist Maeve Gilchrist, gave the plaintive ballad a most appealing Celtic treatment.

 

 
Belinda McElvaine asks for a little "Respect."  

Honoree Andy McGhee took center stage with his saxophone for two standards "Cottontail" and "Body and Soul." He was later joined by his student, graduating senior Donald Lee, and three former students, Bill Pierce '73, Donald Harrison '81, and Javon Jackson '87, for a high-energy, tenor saxophone shootout on Lester Young's "Lester Leaps In."

One of the most striking musical surprises of the night was Dawn Royston's rendering of Giacomo Puccini's romanza "Nessun Dorma" from the opera Turandot. Royston displayed amazing vocal flexibility singing this tribute to Aretha Franklin (who once performed it) and then, a few songs later belting out a duet with Ali Beaudry on Etheridge's "I Run for Life." Belinda McElvaine was stylistically true in her rendition of a pair of Aretha chestnuts "Since You've Been Gone" and "Respect." She shared vocal duties with Major Johnson on the latter. The curtain came down with all vocalists onstage singing Aretha's "Soul Serenade."

The next morning, rain still falling, 807 graduates and many others filled the Matthews Arena at Northeastern University for the ceremony. After greetings from Board of Trustees Chair Allan McLean, student speaker Major Johnson fired up his fellow graduates stating, "Now is the time to take this industry by storm."

 

 
  Guitarist Charlie Worsham strummed tributes to the honorees.

Melissa Etheridge took the mic as commencement speaker. (See an excerpt from her speech on page 2). Following her remarks, President Roger H. Brown presented the four honorees with their degrees.

Beginning with McGhee, Brown cited his stints on the road with jazz masters Lionel Hampton and Woody Herman, and his work with other top jazz musicians, and his 40 years of service to the college. After accepting the degree, McGhee said, "Forty years is a long time to be anyplace. Berklee is a great school with great leadership and a fantastic faculty and staff. It's been a pleasure to be a part of this organization. I'd like to thank thank President and Mrs. Brown for helping fund a scholarship in my name. I'm very honored."

Brown introduced Elliot Scheiner as "one of the most successful recording engineers and producers of our time." He cited his work with Steely Dan, the Eagles, Billy Joel, Sting, B.B. King, and others. Scheiner told the graduates, "As you might guess, this is the greatest honor of my life." Scheiner's son Matt was seated among the graduates waiting to receive his degree in music production and engineering. That prompted the elder Scheiner to ask rhetorically, "What more could any father ask than to graduate alongside his son, knowing that he believes that what you've done over your lifetime and career is worthwhile?"

 

 
Melissa Etheridge (foreground) congratulated student performers after the tribute concert.  

Brown cited Etheridge's position as one of the most popular female recording artists in rock and spoke of her platinum-selling albums and Grammy wins. He also lauded her for using her music and celebrity to inspire hope and courage among fellow cancer survivors.

Introducing Franklin, Brown said, "To date, Aretha is credited with more million-selling songs than any other woman in the history of the recording industry and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." After accepting, Franklin told the grads, "Go out there and let 'em have it, and keep God in the plan."