Jimmy Page, Valerie Simpson, Geri Allen, Thara Memory Honored at Commencement

By 
Allen Bush
May 9, 2014
L-R: Geri Allen, Berklee provost Larry Simpson, Thara Memory, Jimmy Page, Berklee president Roger H. Brown, and Valerie Simpson at Berklee's 2014 commencement.
L-R: Berklee provost Larry Simpson, Geri Allen, and Berklee president Roger H. Brown
L-R: Berklee provost Larry Simpson, Thara Memory, and Berklee president Roger H. Brown
L-R: Berklee provost Larry Simpson, Valerie Simpson, and Berklee president Roger H. Brown
L-R: Berklee provost Larry Simpson, Jimmy Page, and Berklee president Roger H. Brown
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson

Nearly 900 graduates from 66 countries received degrees today at Berklee’s 2014 commencement. Berklee president Roger H. Brown presented honorary doctor of music degrees to music legends Jimmy Page, Valerie Simpson, Geri Allen, and Thara Memory, representating rock, R&B, jazz, and music education. Page delivered the commencement address to the graduating class and an estimated audience of more than 4,000 guests at the Agganis Arena.

Page told the audience he was overwhelmed by the performances of his songs at the previous night’s concert, and decided the speech he had prepared was useless. Speaking extemporaneously to the rapt audience, he winked and said he’d busk his speech. “What a spirit there is here," he began. "Music has so much power across so many avenues. To be in a position to do the thing you’re best at, which is making music, and bringing joy and pleasure to other people, it can’t be much better than that. I wish to pass that on to all of you. Congratulations with your degrees and lots of success in the future."

Watch Page's speech and commencement highlights here:

Allen also said she was moved by the concert. “Last night was just a revelation. To hear the diversity, the authority from which everyone performed, the passion, the love, and the pieces of music—I was just very touched.”

“You are all part of an incredible and far-reaching legacy," Allen added. "What we do is a privilege. Music is so much more than a job. You special people are given a chance to do what you love, and it is love for your art, which will sustain you through the unexpected twists and turns that will come. As you embark on your brilliant futures, always remember the passion you've discovered.”

Memory’s message to the students was direct and sharp, a piece of wisdom from a seasoned educator. “You can't keep it unless you give it away. Start giving it away as soon as you walk out this door. Rehearsal every day is the answer. If you rehearse every day, you have nothing to worry about.”

"This is such a joyous day,” said Simpson, upon receiving her honorary doctorate. “I am so over the moon for each and every one of you. The music last night filled me up to such a degree. You stirred me up. You made me move. I was just thinking of what Mr. Memory said, 'Always rehearse.' I'm going to go a step further and say, ‘Stay in performance mode.’ This is not a rehearsal anymore. You are performing all the time. Give it your all. Give it everything. You never know who's watching, whose going to be listening. Go full throttle. I am so proud of you. Your future is so bright. Carry on y'all!"

The annual commencement concert at the Agganis Arena featured some of the college’s most accomplished students paying tribute to the honorees with performances of music associated with their careers. Three of the honorees took to the stage during the event. Simpson brought the audience to its feet with her hit, "I'm Every Woman." Memory joined students for a performance of his compositions, "Blues for Warren" and "Black Spaniard." Allen performed with Berklee professor Terri Lyne Carrington on her tune "Our Lady," and with Simpson for the songwriter's "I Don't Need No Doctor." From his seat, Page beamed and nodded his head approvingly after original arrangements of "Kashmir" and "The Ocean" and a guitar medley that included solos and riffs from "How Many More Times," "Heartbreaker," "Dazed and Confused," "Whole Lotta Love," and "Stairway to Heaven," among others.

This year’s honorary doctorate recipients were recognized for their achievements in contemporary music, for their enduring contributions to popular culture, and for the influence their careers and music have had on Berklee’s international student body. Page, Simpson, Allen, and Memory join the ranks of such esteemed recipients as Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, David Bowie, Bonnie Raitt, Annie Lennox, Count Basie, Sting, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Billy Joel, Chaka Khan, Steven Tyler, George Clinton, and Patti LaBelle.

Berklee’s class of 2014 included international students from 66 countries, representing 32% of the class. The largest number of graduates from outside the United States were from South Korea and Canada. Students from as far away as Ghana, Mozambique, Japan, Russia, and the Philippines were among the graduating class. Domestic students were from 45 states. The top three majors were professional music, music business/management, and performance. Voice, guitar, and piano were the three most common instruments among the graduates.