Commencement 2008

Five Music Legends Receive Honors at Commencement 2008

Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire, Steve Winwood, Rosa Passos, and Howard Shore join students on stage for the commencement concert.

May 10, 2008

More than 840 graduates received degrees today at Berklee's 2008 Commencement, held at the Agganis Arena at Boston University. Honorary doctor of music degrees were presented by President Roger H. Brown to Grammy-winning r&b stars Philip Bailey and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire; British rock pioneer Steve Winwood; composer and Berklee alumnus Howard Shore; and Brazilian singer/songwriter Rosa Passos. Philip Bailey delivered the commencement address to the graduating class and guests at the 7,200 capacity arena.

Philip Bailey (far left) looks on as Steve Winwood makes acceptance remarks after receiving an honorary doctorate from Berklee.
Photo by Tony Irving

The commencement concert took place the evening before graduation, May 9, also at Agganis Arena. Some of the college's most accomplished students presented a tribute to the honorees with pop, rock, r&b, funk, Latin, bossa nova, and film scores associated with their careers. Bailey, Winwood, Shore, and Passos were so moved that they took to the stage to perform alongside the students. Passos sang her song "Verao;" Shore conducted a more than 50-person student and faculty orchestra performing his "Naked Lunch Suite;" Winwood joined graduating vocalist Rebecca Muir for a duet of his hit song "Roll With It;" and Bailey's soaring vocals brought the house down on the Earth, Wind & Fire song "Fantasy." Other songs performed by the students included Earth, Wind & Fire's "September;" Winwood's "Higher Love;" Shore's "Symphonic Suite from Fellowship of the Ring;" and Passos's "Samurai."

In his commencement address, Bailey thanked fellow honoree Maurice White for the opportunity to join the Earth, Wind & Fire family, and stressed the importance of the countless musicians, teachers, mentors, role models, friends, and family who have influenced him. "Why do I feel the need to mention all these people on this occasion?  It's because of a lesson I learned a long time ago, one that I'll never forget. Today I pass it on to you in the hopes that you too will never forget, that none of us, no matter how intelligent, or talented, or creative, or well connected, ever makes it all by himself. Rather, each of us stands on the shoulders of great men and women who have walked before us."

He also offered these words of advice: "Never lose your creativity. Never lose your excitement. Never lose your pure love for music. And years from now, wherever life may have taken you, whatever you may be doing for a living, you'll still be hearing the music. I pray that you will always take this gift of music with you as a professional, as a part-time practitioner, or merely as a full-time enthusiast. Don't take your ability to hear what others can't hear, for granted."

Multi-instrumentalist Steve Winwood, who has influenced countless musicians over the course of his four-decade career, said, "I would have never thought that I would have been part of the Berklee graduation class of 2008 at the age of 60," alluding to his birthday the following Monday. After expressing gratitude to the Berklee community for his honor and praising the students who performed in the tribute concert, he told them all, "Berklee you are a light. Keep on shining."

Howard Shore, a three-time Academy Award-winner for his work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, attended Berklee in the late 1960s. Shore referenced director Ingmar Bergman's idea that movies convey illusion when will and intellect are cast aside to make way for it in the imagination. "Music works in the same fashion," he said. "There is no other art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affecting our emotions directly, not via the intellect."

This year's honorary doctorate recipients were recognized for their achievements in contemporary music, for their enduring contributions to popular culture, and for the influence their careers and music have had over Berklee's international student body. Philip Bailey, Maurice White, Steve Winwood, Howard Shore, and Rosa Passos join the ranks of such esteemed recipients as Duke Ellington, David Bowie, Count Basie, B.B. King, Sting, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Pat Metheny, Loretta Lynn, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, Quincy Jones, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, and Patti Labelle.

Berklee's class of 2008 included more than 840 students graduating with bachelor of music degrees or professional diplomas. Female graduates numbered 263, representing 31 percent of the total class. International students from 54 different countries—the largest portions from South Korea and Japan—made up 30 percent of the class. Domestic students were from 47 U.S. states, with the largest representations coming from Massachusetts, New York, and California. The top three majors were professional music, music business/management, and performance. Guitar, voice, and piano were the three most common means of musical expression among students of the graduating class.

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Margot Edwards
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medwards@berklee.edu