Jimmy Page, Geri Allen, Valerie Simpson, Thara Memory to Receive Honorary Degrees

By 
Nick Balkin
March 13, 2014
Jimmy Page
Geri Allen
Valerie Simpson
Thara Memory
Photo by Ross Halfin
Photo by Diane Russell

Berklee president Roger H. Brown will present Jimmy Page, Geri Allen, Valerie Simpson, and Thara Memory with honorary doctor of music degrees at Berklee's commencement ceremony, Saturday, May 10, at the 7,000-seat Agganis Arena at Boston University. More than 900 Berklee graduates, their parents, and invited guests will be in attendance.

This year's honorary doctorate recipients are being recognized for their achievements and influences in music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture. Past recipients include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Steven Tyler, Loretta Lynn, David Bowie, Juan Luis Guerra, Paco de Lucia, Carole King, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, and George Clinton.

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

Jimmy Page is a world renowned guitarist, composer, and producer who has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He began his career as a studio session guitarist in London and subsequently became a member of the Yardbirds, in 1966, before founding Led Zeppelin, in 1968. Over the next decade, Led Zeppelin effectively redefined rock music, drawing on a wide range of influences to create a string of legendary albums that have to date sold an estimated 300 million copies. Through his work with Led Zeppelin, Page became recognized as one of the greatest and most versatile guitarists in history. From acoustic ballads to hard rock standards, his use of unconventional scales and tunings, innovative use of electronic effects, and fresh approaches to records and production took the rock genre to a new level. His solo from Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is still widely considered the greatest guitar solo of all time, four decades since it was recorded.

Geri Allen is a pianist, composer, educator, and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient. Over her expansive career, the Detroit native released nearly 20 albums as a leader, and worked with Ornette Coleman, Betty Carter, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Ravi Coltrane, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Marcus Belgrave, Jimmy Cobb, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motion. The first recipient of the Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for jazz, Allen was also the first woman and youngest ever recipient of the Danish Jazzpar Prize. Her work has been featured in the Peabody-winning film Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, on Carrington's Grammy-winning album The Mosaic Project, and Andy Bey's Grammy-nominated album American Song. She was recently commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to compose a piece to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. In 2013, Allen returned to her alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, to serve as director of jazz studies. She continues to tour with the Geri Allen Trio and her tap quartet, Timeline.

Valerie Simpson is half of the songwriting, production, and performing entity formerly known as Ashford and Simpson. With her late husband Nick Ashford, she cowrote and produced numerous pop and soul hits for music legends such as Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, and Chaka Khan, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," and "I'm Every Woman," to name just a few. As performers, Ashford and Simpson's best known songs include "Solid (As a Rock)" and "Found a Cure." The duo was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. Simpson recently released her first solo album, 2012's Dinosaurs Are Coming Back, and was featured on Oprah's Next Chapter. As a member of the ASCAP Foundation Board, she established the Reach Out and Touch Award, which honors Ashford and helps advance the careers of promising young songwriters. She also owns and runs the Sugar Bar, a popular restaurant and music venue in New York's Upper West Side. Four Ashford and Simpson songs are currently featured in the Broadway hit Motown the Musical. Simpson made her first visit to Berklee last year to perform in Trouble Man, a musicial about the life of Marvin Gaye that was scripted by Berklee students. 

Thara Memory is a trumpeter, composer, and teacher who has earned the reputation as one of the finest musicians and music educators in Portland, Oregon, his home for more than 40 years. Born in Tampa and raised in Eatonville, Florida, he has played with Dizzy Gillespie, James Brown, Natalie Cole, the Four Tops, and Stanley Turrentine, among others. In 2005, he founded the American Music Program, a youth jazz orchestra that has won national accolades. He shares a 2013 Grammy Award with his former student, Berklee alumna Esperanza Spalding, for his arrangement of the track "City of Roses" from her album Radio Music Society. Students from the American Music Program back Spalding on the track and also appear in the song's music video. Memory was named the Jazz Society of Oregon's Musician of the Year in 2006, inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2007, and was honored as Portland Jazz Master at the 2012 Portland Jazz Festival.