Berklee College of Music Honors David Bowie and Wayne Shorter at 1999 Graduation

By
Rob Hochschild
May 8, 1999

A total of 580 graduates from 48 countries received degrees today at Berklee College of Music's 1999 commencement at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Rock legend David Bowie and renowned jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, two musicians whose compositions and performances are central to the modern eras of rock and jazz, were bestowed honorary doctor of music degrees at the ceremony.

As a musician, performer and songwriter, David Bowie has continually reinvented himself and his art, from his late '60s breakout hit, "Space Oddity," to Ziggy Stardust, to his collaborations with Brian Eno, to his many film roles, to his most recent Earthling disc and BowieNet Internet portal.

As principal commencement speaker, Bowie entertained Berklee's graduating students with humorous anecdotes from his 33-year career, including several about his long-time friend, and greatest influence, John Lennon. He urged the graduates to push the envelope by not being afraid to combine music of many styles. In closing, Bowie said, "Music has given me over 40 years of extraordinary experiences. I can't say that life's pains or more tragic episodes have been diminished because of it, but it's allowed me so many moments of companionship when I've been lonely, and a sublime means of communication when I wanted to touch people. It's been both my doorway of perception and the house that I live in. I only hope that it embraces you with the same lusty life-force that it graciously offered me."

One of the most revered instrumentalists and composers in all of modern jazz, Wayne Shorter was central to the groups of Art Blakey and Miles Davis, transforming hard-bop with the former, and playing a central role as Davis moved his second great quintet through long, post-bop forms into jazz-rock and electronics. Shorter's own co-founding of Weather Report, with Joe Zawinul '59 H'91, took jazz-rock in a new direction.

After receiving his honorary doctorate, Shorter said, "Music is a celebration of life; the bread crumbs that lead me to loved ones. What affords me to go on in the face of the unexpected is a deep faith in the existence of eternity."

President Lee Eliot Berk bestowed the honorary doctorates, then addressed the graduates, praising their achievement and recognizing several who had overcome physical and political challenges to attain their goal of a music degree.

The graduates also enjoyed a slide presentation commemorating their student life at Berklee, with a narration written and delivered by Bryan George '99 of Redondo Beach, CA, and Rie Kimura '99 of Zushi, Japan. Marijke Van Niekerk '99

of Durban, South Africa, winner of the student commencement speech contest, also addressed the graduates and 3,000 guests.

The night before the commencement, graduating student musicians performed a tribute concert to honorees Bowie and Shorter. Many of Bowie' s hits were performed, including "Changes," "Let's Dance," and "Space Oddity." The concert also featured many of Wayne Shorter compositions, including "Footprints," "Infant Eyes," and "Ping Pong."

Shorter and Bowie join such Berklee honorary doctorate recipients as Duke Ellington, B.B. King, Patti LaBelle, Sting, James Taylor, Pat Metheny, Dizzy Gillespie, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, and alumnus Quincy Jones.