Berklee to Honor Country Star Ricky Skaggs

By 
Mitzi Dorbu
March 3, 2008
Ricky Skaggs, moments after receiving his Berklee honorary degree.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry

Ricky Skaggs, known as an ambassador of bluegrass music, will be awarded a Berklee honorary doctorate of music on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Berklee senior vice president for Academic Affairs Larry Simpson will bestow the honor as part of Skaggs's performance on the Tuesday night Opry March 18. Among other performers scheduled for the Opry that evening are Country Musc Hall of Famers Bill Anderson and Jimmy Dickens, the Del McCoury Band, and the Whites, with whom Skaggs won a Grammy Award last month. Also present will be 120 Berklee students who will have the special privilege of a private Q&A session with Skaggs after the ceremony as part of their spring break trip.

"At Berklee, we admire musicians of extraordinary talent who follow their artistic inclinations fearlessly," said Berklee College of Music president Roger Brown. "Ricky Skaggs is a master musician with sky-high standards who achieved mainstream success his own way, on his own terms. By honoring Ricky Skaggs, we shine a light on the present and future of bluegrass; its heritage and its infinite potential. And besides all that, the man can pick."

Skaggs's virtuosity, his rich musicality, and his commitment to the deep roots of American music make him a deserving recipient of a Berklee honorary doctorate. Berklee has also bestowed this honor upon country music legends Loretta Lynn and Earl Scruggs. This award places them in prestigious company, with such fellow recipients as Duke Ellington, Sting, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, Sarah Vaughan, John Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Nancy Wilson, Paul Simon, Patti LaBelle, and David Bowie among others.

Renowned guitarist and producer Chet Atkins at one time credited Skaggs with "single-handedly" saving country music, and after years at the top of the country charts he returned to his bluegrass roots to spread the gospel of one of America's great musical genres. Skaggs has garnered 13 Grammy Awards, 11 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, 8 Country Music Association Awards, and numerous other distinctions. As a child prodigy, his professional career began working side-by-side with seminal artists like Ralph Stanley and J.D. Crowe and the New South. Before that, he was already playing with bluegrass legends Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs. Once he entered the world of country music, Skaggs was well poised for mainstream success with Emmylou Harris's Hot Band, and eventually on his own as he blazed the trail to a whole new genre called neo-traditionalism.

That pioneering spirit led him to establish his own record label-Skaggs Family Records-whose first release set a new standard for bluegrass, bringing new sales records to this arena. Today that label features a variety of musical artists who continue to expose and broaden the realm of bluegrass and roots music.

Berklee in Nashville: More than 100 Berklee students-including some from Malaysia, Indonesia, Switzerland, and the U.K.-will be in Nashville for spring break and will join local alumni, members of Berklee's Boston community, and friends of Skaggs for the presentation and performance. For more than 20 years, students have come to Nashville to gain an insider's knowledge of the music industry by meeting and learning from top performers, songwriters, publishers, producers, and engineers.

Berklee professors Pat Pattison and Stephen Webber have organized a stellar lineup of artists this year to meet with students, including Grammy-winning performers and songwriters Mike Reid, Gary Burr, Janice Ian, Jon Vezner, and Kathy Mattea. The students will tour Nashville's top studios and participate in an interactive recording session experience at the Tracking Room, with A-list players including Brent Mason, Eddie Bayers, and potentially one very special guest to be announced. Platinum-selling producer Kyle Lehning and Grammy-winning songwriter Mike Reid will also talk shop with the students. Berklee's spring break in Nashville is from March 15 to 19.