Garrett, Chucho and Bebo Valdés, Staples, McDonald to Be Honored

By
Liz Burg
April 7, 2011
Kenny Garrett
Mavis Staples
Michael McDonald
Bebo and Chucho Valdés
Photo Guillermo Rodriguez

Berklee president Roger H. Brown will present Chucho Valdés, Bebo Valdés, Kenny Garrett, Mavis Staples, and Michael McDonald with honorary doctor of music degrees at Berklee College of Music's commencement ceremony, Saturday, May 7, at the 7,000-seat Agganis Arena at Boston University. Commencement speaker Kenny Garrett will address more than 900 Berklee graduates, their parents, and invited guests. Bebo Valdés will not be in attendance; Chucho will accept the degree on his behalf.

This year's honorary doctorate recipients are being recognized for their achievements and influence in music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture. Past recipients include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Dizzy Gillespie, Smokey Robinson, Steven Tyler, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Juan Luis Guerra, Nancy Wilson, David Bowie, the Edge, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Chaka Khan, Bonnie Raitt, Ahmet Ertegun, Kenneth Gamble, and Leon Huff.

On commencement eve, as is Berklee's tradition, students will pay tribute to the honorees by performing music associated with their careers at a concert held in the Agganis. The concert and ceremony are not open to the public.

Grammy Award-winning saxophonist, flautist, arranger, composer, and bandleader Kenny Garrett has released 18 albums as a leader and appeared on more than 230 as a sideman, showcasing his versatility in jazz, blues, and R&B. The Detroit native rose to success quickly; he was performing in the Duke Ellington Orchestra before he'd even finished high school. Garrett went on to perform with other groups, including Miles Davis' band, before releasing his first album as a bandleader, Introducing Kenny Garrett, in 1984. In 1997, Garrett released Songbook, his first album entirely of his own compositions, which earned a Grammy Award nomination, as did 2006's Beyond the Wall. Recently, Garrett joined the jazz legend supergroup the Five Peace Band with Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Christian McBride, Brian Blade, and Vinnie Colaiuta (and later Brian Blade), and he won a Grammy Award for the group's eponymous album.

Garett has performed or recorded with a multitude of musical legends, including Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Q-Tip, and Roy Haynes. Garrett continues to tour and record with the world's most experienced living jazz legends.

Vocalist Mavis Staples, alongside her siblings and her father, catapulted gospel into the pop mainstream as the Staple Singers with No. 1 hits "I'll Take You There" and "Let's Do It Again." From her work with her family through her solo career, launched in 1969 with the release of her self-titled solo album, Staples has continually delivered songs with a larger meaning within a social and political context. The Staple Singers performed at rallies for Martin Luther King Jr., and Mavis's 2007 album We'll Never Turn Back features freedom songs of the civil rights movement. Over the course of her career, Staples has collaborated with a cross-genre who's who in the industry, including Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Prince, Nona Hendryx, Aretha Franklin, the Band, Booker T & the M.G.'s, Curtis Mayfield, and Natalie Merchant. Meanwhile, her voice has been sampled by such hip-hop artists as Ice Cube, Ludacris, and Salt-N-Pepa. The multiple-Grammy nominee got her due this past February with her first Grammy win; You Are Not Alone, produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, received Best Americana Album. In addition to her Grammy nods, Staples is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement winner, and a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award recipient. She was named by VHI as one of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll and by Rolling Stone as among the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning, composer, arranger, and bandleader Chucho Valdés, known for melding diverse musical styles with virtuosic dexterity, plays a prolific role among the Cuban jazz community. Despite cultural barriers due to his Cuban residency, Valdés has developed and maintained a wide and loyal American audience. Since beginning his professional career at 15 with the Havana-based Sabor de Cuba orchestra, directed by his father, Bebo Valdés, Valdés has enjoyed a successful career as both a soloist and group member. In 1972, Valdés cofounded Irakere, known for its explosive mixture of jazz, rock, classical, and traditional Cuban music, alongside music director Armando de Sequeira Romeu. The group won a Grammy Award in 1979 for their self-titled album. Valdés has released more than 85 albums under his own name, and he has gone on to win four Grammy Awards for the albums Live at Newport, Havana, Live at the Village Vanguard, and Chucho's Steps. Valdés has performed internationally at world-renowned venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Blue Note Jazz Club, often sharing the stage with jazz giants like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Lovano, George Benson, Max Roach, Jack DeJohnette, Ron Carter, Tito Puente, and many more. In addition to his musical achievements, in 2006, Valdés was named Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Born Ramón Emilio Valdés Amar in Havana, Cuba, in 1918, pianist, bandleader, composer, and arranger Bebo Valdés is often dubbed the most important Cuban musician of our time. Playing a leading role in the golden age of Cuban music, Valdés has been an unparalleled member of the Latin jazz community since the 1940s. He began working as a pianist and arranger for Ernesto Lecuona and Rita Montaner and went on to play an important role in the development of mambo before creating his own rhythm, batanga. In 1952, producer Norman Granz, inspired by the positive reception of Afrocuban jazz in New York, enlisted Valdés to tape the first Cuban jazz jam session ever recorded on the island. In 1960, Valdés left Cuba to perform and record in Mexico and the United States before settling in Sweden, where he lived for three decades outside of the limelight. In 1994, Valdés released Bebo Rides Again, a collection of Cuban jazz classics and Valdés originals produced by Paquito D'Rivera, reviving his career. Four years later, Valdés was invited by director Fernando Trueba to appear in and play on the soundtrack for his 2000 documentary on Latin jazz, Calle 54. Valdés earned a Grammy Award and a Latin Grammy Award for his work on the film, catapulting him to newfound stardom. Over the last decade, Valdés has released many more acclaimed albums, including Lágrimas Negras with Flamenco heavyweight El Cigala, and has worked on four more films, which have gained recognition by the prestigious Spanish Academy of Cinematic Arts and Sciences and by the BBC. Since his first Grammy nods in 2000, Valdés has won two additional Grammy Awards and five additional Latin Grammy Awards.

An inspiration to vocalists everywhere, Michael McDonald has brought his unique sound to soul, R&B, rock, and pop for 40 years. McDonald's signature rich baritone was first heard on Steely Dan's famed records of the mid-1970s, bringing an unmistakable soul to the band's jazz-pop experiments. From there, he joined the Doobie Brothers. His songwriting, keyboards, and vocal stylings—first featured on 1976's platinum-selling Takin' It to the Streets, with its McDonald-penned title trackreshaped the California rock band. The group's accomplishments grew with Minute by Minute, which won four Grammys in 1979, including Record of the Year. After the Doobie Brothers disbanded, McDonald went on to a successful solo career, starting with 1982 release If That's What It Takes. In high demand as a duet partner, McDonald won his fifth Grammy in 1984 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Yah Mo B There" with James Ingram. As a composer, McDonald has collaborated with Jackie DeShannon, Diane Warren, Clint Black, and Brenda Lee, among others. His songs have been performed and covered by artists as diverse and successful as Rick Astley, Cheap Trick, Joe Cocker, Allison Krauss, the Oak Ridge Boys, Bonnie Raitt, and Van Halen. In the mid-'90s, McDonald began touring again with the Doobie Brothers, and over the last decade, McDonald has focused most notably on the Motown repertoire, with the platinum-selling Motown in 2003, Motown Two the following year, and 2008's Soul Speak