Student Profile: Carlton Washington II

By 
Lesley Mahoney
July 28, 2008
Carlton Washington II<br><b>Hometown</b>: Long Beach, Mississippi<br><b>Major</b>: Music Business/Management<br><b>Instrument</b>: Guitar<br><b>Style</b>: Blues and Soul
Carlton Washington jams in his Blues Performance Ensemble class.
Photo By Bill Gallery
Photo by Bill Gallery

Carlton Washington II grew up listening to his dad's music collection: soul, blues, and most of the Motown catalogue. But one of those discs really hooked him: Lenny Kravitz's Are You Gonna Go My Way. "I listened to the entire album, looking at the pictures, thinking I'd never seen anything like this. It had a huge impact on me," says Washington, who was about 9 at the time.

Even before that, he began his foray into music. He and his dad were driving around their Detroit neighborhood when Washington noticed an acoustic guitar someone had set out on their lawn as trash. His father retrieved it, fixed it up, and gave it to Washington for Christmas.

"I still have that guitar," recalls Washington, whose family later moved to Long Beach, Mississippi, which he considers his hometown. "I'll never get rid of it. That was my introduction to the guitar."

Listen to "Tea Blues Pickins" (C. Washington II)

Self-taught at first, Washington continued to play through middle school and boarding school, ultimately getting an electric guitar and taking lessons around the age of 12, finding his rhythm with the blues. "That was really the start of where I'm at now," he says.

Another turning point came one day while Washington was checking out websites of guitar manufacturers, as he often did, and came across a clinic sponsored by ESP Guitars, featuring Joe Stump. Though it was scheduled for just hours later that day, Washington and his dad were able to make it. He remembers being impressed by Stump's playing, as well as his mention of Berklee, where he teaches guitar. Washington and his father talked to Stump after the clinic, but Washington wasn't confident he'd get accepted.

"I didn't think I could cut it here by any means," he recalls. "But I stuck with music, I stuck with my instructor, and I put in the application. That was my only application. We had it in our heads that even if I didn't get accepted to Berklee right then, I would move to Boston, and get a job until I could be accepted."

But Washington didn't have to go with Plan B because he got in on the first try. Still, his early days at Berklee didn't come without their challenges. "It was a rocky start here. I wasn't a classically trained musician like a lot of these kids," says Washington, who had his guitar lessons and a few high school theory classes under his belt. "The fact that I could come here and really hold my own with a lot of the theory stuff, and eventually excel, that's definitely a great thing. I overcame it, I applied myself, and I was able to take care of business."

Indeed, from the start, Washington knew he wanted to major in music business/management. "Before I even came to Berklee, I always had it in my head that I would be able to excel in the business aspects of things and that it would be extremely beneficial to get this foundation," he says. "So many artists are always talking about how they wished they knew more about the business. Down the road, I plan to perform. But I feel as though I need to establish myself in the industry first."

And that's exactly what Washington is doing. "The major itself gives me the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the industry." From music publishing to A&R to economics, Washington is soaking it all up, ready to apply what he learns to his vision for his career. He became involved in the Music Business Journal, moving up the ranks to editor in chief; he stepped down from that post to pursue an internship.

Washington's commitment to his goals was further strengthened after a personal setback. His family's Mississippi home was destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Washington had just settled in for his third semester at Berklee when the catastrophic hurricane hit. His mother, who was home when the storm struck, got out in time and the family relocated to Michigan, but others in their apartment complex were not so fortunate. Over winter break, when Washington went down to help out, he saw the devastation first-hand.

"It was after that when I really saw a change in my mind. I grew up," he says. "I really buckled down and dedicated every inch of myself, every part of my being, into my vision and what I'm doing here."

As a result of the experience, Washington has a renewed appreciation for Berklee. "I'm very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing," he says. "In life we are given opportunities to make a change and become something, to become stronger than we were. With that strength, you are able to do more than you ever would have done."

Carlton's Top Five Albums

  • Guy Clark - Old No. 1
  • Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
  • James Cotton - Take Me Back
  • Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' in the Moonlight
  • Ray Charles - Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music