Berklee Career Jam Welcomes H.E.R. as Keynote Speaker
Berklee held its annual Career Jam last week, welcoming singer-songwriter and R&B superstar H.E.R. as its keynote speaker. Moderated by Sean Skeete, chair of Berklee’s Ensemble Department, the discussion ranged from H.E.R.'s inspirations and songwriting process to the responsibility and importance of being a public figure as a young Black woman in the music industry, with all questions submitted by Berklee students. Prior to H.E.R.’s keynote appearance, Skeete held a panel discussion with musical director and arranger Alonzo Harris, assistant professor of Ensembles; Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer D. Arcelious Harris, assistant professor of Songwriting; Jeanine McLean, H.E.R.’s comanager and president of MBK Entertainment; and Jeff Robinson, H.E.R.’s manager and CEO of MBK Entertainment, about how students can prepare and transition to being professionals in the music industry.
When asked about how she balances being a public figure in the music industry with being an artist, H.E.R. responded:
“When we make this art, when we make these songs, we put our all into it. It’s the purest form of ourselves. So when I realized that, I think it was easier for me to release this honest music. It was easier to look at my songs and go, ‘Wait somebody else might be going through the same thing. I have this gift, and I need to use it,’ because I think I’m giving voice to the voiceless.”
Alonzo Harris was brought into the keynote discussion to surprise H.E.R. with a special musical tribute video. Produced by Rob Lewis ’94 (musical director for Christina Aguilera) and Michael Borgida (Berklee's director of Marketing and External Affairs), and coproduced by Harris, the video tribute left H.E.R. in tears, as Berklee students spoke about their inspiration from her music, and performed hits such as “Damage,” “Best Part,” “Facts,” and more.
Watch the video tribute on Berklee’s YouTube channel:
"H.E.R.'s story and words at this year's Career Jam represent the perfect intersection of Berklee's commitment to helping students follow their passion and achieve success in their respective professional fields," says Stefanie Henning, associate vice president for career and digital strategy. "H.E.R.'s musicianship and artistry continuously inspire everyone in the Berklee community, and it means so much to us that such a wonderful musician and accomplished professional can speak directly to our students at such a meaningful time in so many of their lives."
Career Jam was held virtually this year, in an all-day event that welcomed artists and industry professionals to speak to Berklee students about the music business. Panel discussions included topics such as songwriting and production, social media strategy, video game music development, Broadway and musical theater production, and more. Panelists represented companies including TikTok, Capitol Records, Interscope Records, RCA Records, Blizzard Entertainment, Riot Games, and many more.
H.E.R. is an R&B force in the industry, having received 10 Grammy nominations and four wins since 2018, as well as an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Original Song for “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah. In a short period of time, H.E.R. has accrued over two billion combined streams—and counting—of the breakthrough projects H.E.R. (RIAA-certified platinum), I Used to Know Her, and numerous singles and collaborations. “Slow Down,” Skip Marley’s infectious song featuring H.E.R., claimed the no. 1 spot on the Billboard Adult R&B Airplay chart.
H.E.R. has captivated audiences while headlining her North American and international tours, but also with an impressive list of television performances, including: the 2020 and 2019 Grammy Awards; the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards; Austin City Limits; the Today show; Good Morning America; The Ellen DeGeneres Show; The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; Jimmy Kimmel Live; The Late Late Show with James Corden; The Late Show with Stephen Colbert; Late Night with Seth Meyers; Nickelodeon’s All That; the 2018 BET Awards; the 2019 Global Citizen Festival (which included her duet of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” with Alicia Keys); Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince; Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort Special; and Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020.
While the world was under quarantine due to COVID-19, H.E.R. created Girls With Guitars, an Instagram Live performance and conversation series, which has featured guest appearances by Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Willow Smith, Tori Kelly, Alessia Cara, Chloe x Halle, Lianna La Havas, Nai Palm (of Hiatus Kaiyote), and more. The show's sponsors include Amazon Music (which donated $30,000 to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund), Fender, Lyft, Beats by Dre, Glossier, and Revolve.