Berklee Honors Ringo Starr, Lalah Hathaway, James Newton Howard, and Chuck Rainey at Commencement

The entertainment legends received honorary doctorates for their immeasurable impact on music, film and television, and popular culture.

May 7, 2022

More than 900 graduates from 67 countries and 46 U.S. states came together to celebrate at the Agganis Arena in Boston for Berklee College of Music’s 2022 commencement, the first in-person ceremony held in three years. Berklee President Erica Muhl presented honorary doctorates to Beatles icon Ringo Starr, R&B luminary and Berklee alumna Lalah Hathaway ’90, decorated composer and producer James Newton Howard, and legendary bass player Chuck Rainey.

The annual commencement concert took place the previous evening at Agganis and featured many of Berklee’s most talented graduates paying tribute to the honorees by performing their music, including Hathaway’s Grammy-winning songs “Something” and “Angel,” Howard’s compositions from Pretty Woman and The Hunger Games franchise, and a panoply of hits from Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, and Quincy Jones to reflect Rainey’s contributions to music. During the concert, Hathaway took to the stage to deliver a stirring tribute to her late father, Donny Hathaway, with “A Song for You,” backed by a band of Berklee student musicians.

Starr delivered a surprise address in a prerecorded statement to the class of 2022. The rock legend will visit Berklee to receive his honorary degree in person this summer.

“If I could wish anything for you, it would be that the passion and love that you have for making music…continues to guide you through wherever your career takes you next,” said Starr. “It’s great when success happens, and Berklee students have seen a lot of it…but it’s important to remember that’s not what this is all about. For each of us, it started with a dream to play music. May your dream keep unfolding for you, as it has for me.”

Hathaway, a genre-defying singer-songwriter and five-time Grammy Award–winner, was recognized for her vocal range, emotional live performances and recordings, and empowering songwriting. In her address, Hathaway touched on her formative experience as a Berklee student, when she recorded her debut album. She talked about the shared language and connection in the Berklee community, and how she “played with some of the greatest musicians ever still to this day. There are people out there in the halls at Berklee that I still think about, that electrify me, and push me toward greatness.”

Lalah Hathaway

Lalah Hathaway performs "A Song for You" at the commencement concert.

Reflecting upon her time at the college, Hathaway thanked Maggie Scott, professor of voice, who encouraged her to make her “disco album” in Los Angeles and then return to Boston to make her jazz album. “I’m glad she told me that,” said Hathaway. “In that moment I didn’t know that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I had a vision for who I was as an artist, as a musician, when I came here, and I’m glad that I wasn’t fully in charge of that because I might have pigeonholed myself. So don’t do that to yourselves. That’s important for you to remember. You can do whatever you want to do. As soon as you realize what your path is and you are clearly going on that path, you’re the greatest.” 

On the dynamics of being an artist, Hathaway said, “You’ve done something really great. You have made the choice to share your God-given thoughts and your dreams and your ruminations and your nightmares and your talent. All of that goes into your music. All of that plays into your art. You’ve taken the next step and a leap of faith toward becoming an alchemist, a storyteller, a game changer, a healer. I hope that you have made an agreement with yourself to be honest and truthful with your art. Do not look to the music industry to tell you that you’re an artist.”

Be uncompromising about finding your life’s work, but be open to it being something you can’t imagine for yourself now.

— James Newton Howard

Howard, an acclaimed film composer, conductor, songwriter, and record producer, was celebrated for his original scores for such foundational movies as Pretty in Pink, The Fugitive, and The Sixth Sense across a storied career that has included nine Oscar nominations, an Emmy, and a Grammy. President Muhl acknowledged Howard’s mark on popular music through collaborations with cultural icons Elton John, Diana Ross, and Crosby, Stills & Nash, among many others, as well as his masterful arrangements brought to life by the Pacific Symphony and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

“I don’t believe we make our own luck, but I do believe we need to be available, willing, and capable of responding when the opportunity knocks,” said Howard. “Don’t settle for mediocre. You will become what you practice most, so practice excellence, practice creativity, and remember the creative muscle is a muscle…that needs to be exercised and strengthened.” He closed his speech by offering the graduating class the following advice: “Be uncompromising about finding your life’s work, but be open to it being something you can’t imagine for yourself now.”

Next time it rains, be still and listen to it…there’s a bass line in there.

— Chuck Rainey

One of the most ubiquitous and influential bass players in American music, Chuck Rainey earned honors from Berklee for advancing intricate techniques still employed by bassists today. President Muhl related how Rainey quickly became a coveted fixture of major recording studios and touring acts of the ’60s and ’70s, playing with the Quincy Jones Big Band, Sam Cooke, Etta James, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, and Steely Dan, and how his lasting grooves on the themes of Sanford & Son and The Jeffersons helped shape an era of television.

“As long as you love what you’re doing, you’re going to be appreciated and taken care of,” said Rainey, reflecting on his 60-plus years as a professional musician. “In my career, I ran into so many situations where I thought it was the end for me. I’m a cancer survivor, I’m a stroke survivor, and a lot of that survival is because of the love from my family.” Rainey cited nature as having a profound effect on his artistic development, and encouraged students to remain receptive to the melodies of the natural world: “Next time it rains, be still and listen to it…there’s a bass line in there.”

As he ended his address, Rainey made a special point to acknowledge the significance of sharing the stage with Lalah Hathaway, and the influence that her father, Donny, had on his personal and professional journey. “Your father, Lalah, was very important to me. It is such an honor to receive this prestigious degree with you.”

This year's faculty speech was delivered by Chi Gook Kim, associate professor of music therapy. A visually impaired immigrant from South Korea who overcame incredible challenges in his path to success, Kim urged the class of 2022 to be champions of inclusivity and opportunity as they move forward. “You will become performers, teachers, CEOs, and more who will revolutionize the music industry. And if you are in that position…be a hero to others, especially to people who are not in majority groups, whether it’s disability, race, gender, [or] economic status.”

Addressing her fellow classmates, student speaker Julia Esther Jahng, a double major in songwriting and music production and engineering, spoke about the supportive and collaborative environment created by the Berklee community, and how empathy and humanism drives passion for making music. “I hope that as we step off this stage today, we would all go into the world and be the music,” said Jahng. “It is the miracles you’ve experienced…the love you’ve both given and received, and every life experience in between.”

This year’s honorary doctorate recipients were celebrated for cementing a place in popular culture as artistic innovators, unique creators, and community builders that continue to connect and inspire global audiences everywhere. Past recipients from the college include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Celine Dion, B.B. King, Quincy Jones ’51, Esperanza Spalding B.M. ’05, Justin Timberlake, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie, Missy Elliot, Carole King, Willie Nelson, George Clinton, Plácido Domingo, Annie Lennox, Gloria Estefan, and Smokey Robinson.

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