Celine Dion, Donald Harrison, the Neptunes, Chita Rivera, and André Watts to Receive Honorary Doctorates at 2021 Commencement
Six of the most lauded and influential performing artists across the worlds of pop, hip-hop, jazz, musical theater, and classical music will receive honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory at Berklee in virtual commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 8. Celine Dion, Donald Harrison, and Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes will receive honorary Doctor of Music degrees from the College, and Chita Rivera and André Watts will receive honorary Doctor of Arts degrees from the Conservatory.
This year’s honorary doctorate recipients will be recognized for their various achievements in the arts as well as their enduring contributions to the cultural and artistic fabric of the world. Past recipients from the College include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones ’51, Wang Leehom ’99, Juan Luis Guerra ’82, Missy Elliott, Esperanza Spalding B.M. ’05, Rita Moreno, Justin Timberlake, John Legend, Sheila E., and A. R. Rahman. Past recipients from the Conservatory include Sutton Foster, Leontyne Price, Betty Buckley, Debbie Allen, Nicholas Paleologos, Barbara Cook, Billy Porter, Victoria Livengood (M.M. ’85, voice), Mary Rogers, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and André de Shields.
From the campus in Boston and various remote locations around the world, a group of student performers representing the class of 2021 will unite as a collaborative virtual ensemble to perform a multigenre tribute to the honorees from the College. The prerecorded tribute will air on Friday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. ET on Berklee's YouTube channel.
Berklee College of Music’s commencement ceremony will stream the following day, May 8, at 10:00 a.m. ET, on the school’s social media channels. Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s commencement ceremony will stream on the same date at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Vocal powerhouse Celine Dion is one of the most immediately recognized, widely respected, and successful performers in pop music history. She won numerous awards by the age of 18, dominated the pop charts in 1990s, and has sold almost 250 million albums during her over 35-year career. Dion has earned five Grammy Awards, two Academy Awards, seven American Music Awards, 20 Juno Awards (Canada), and an astonishing 40 Félix Awards (Quebec). She remains one of the most sought-after recording artists, receiving the Diamond Award at the 2004 World Music Awards, recognizing her status as the best-selling female artist of all time. In 2016 the Billboard Music Awards presented Dion with the lifetime achievement Icon Award. She continued to break records with her Las Vegas residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, playing over 1,100 shows to more than 4.5 million fans. She also topped the Billboard U.S. dance club charts in July 2018 with the remix of her single “Ashes” from the Deadpool 2 movie soundtrack. On June 8, 2019, Dion’s iconic 16-year Las Vegas residency came to an end. The much-anticipated Courage world tour kicked off three months later in her home province of Quebec. On November 15, 2019, Dion released her first English album in six years, Courage, an eclectic album representing her new artistic direction. The album includes the hits “Imperfections,” “Lying Down,” and “Courage,” all released on the same day that Dion launched her massive world tour.
Donald Harrison Jr. ’81 has built a whirlwind career as a saxophonist while establishing cultural and educational traditions in his native New Orleans, Louisiana. Known for creating nouveau swing, a jazz style that combines R&B, funk, hip-hop, and African dance, Harrison has toured all over the world, with many albums and honors to his name. He still finds time to be Big Chief of Congo Square Nation in New Orleans for Mardi Gras season, and also serves as artistic director of the Tipitina's Foundation Internship Program, where he helps New Orleans youth, especially the disadvantaged, realize their musical dreams. Born in 1960 to a musical New Orleans family, Harrison’s father, Donald Sr., was a Big Chief, part of the African American tradition of participating in dancing, singing, and call-and-response in fanciful costumes during Mardi Gras. Harrison’s career as a saxophonist has included working with top names in jazz and other genres, including Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Lena Horne, the Notorious B.I.G., and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. Harrison’s albums include Quantum Leap, which was called a breakthrough by critics for its joining of cutting-edge jazz with New Orleans funk. In 2015, he recorded his first classical composition, “Congo Square Nation,” with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Harrison's honors include two French Grand Prix du Disques; accolades from American, Swiss, and Japanese publications; and numerous awards from his hometown of New Orleans.
Formed by Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes imparted their singular spirit upon some of the most seminal albums and songs of this century, including hits by Snoop Dogg, Beyoncé, Shakira, Madonna, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Gwen Stefani, in addition to soundtrack contributions for billion-dollar blockbuster franchises, such as Bad Boys, Fast & Furious, and Austin Powers, among others. The Grammy-winning collective has notched 24 top 10 entries on the Billboard Hot 100, received the number one spot on Billboard’s “Top Producers of the Decade” list, and earned a place in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2020. Williams and Hugo initially met in summer camp in Virginia Beach, Virginia, bonding over marching band and all things music. New Jack Swing icon Teddy Riley caught wind of the duo, signed them, and brought them into his studio barely out of high school. Cutting their teeth, they contributed to records by Blackstreet, SWV, and Total. In 1998, the pair claimed a place on the charts for the first time with N.O.R.E.’s “Superthug (What What).” They went on to produce Kaleidoscope for Kelis as their first full album. The Neptunes set the globe on fire with Britney Spears’s smash hit “I’m a Slave 4 U.” The song hit no. 1 around the world and dramatically amplified their influence as a game-changing force. In 2003, the group released the gold-selling compilation The Neptunes Present…Clones, hitting no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The year 2004 represented a watershed moment for the Neptunes. They created seven of the 13 tracks on Justin Timberlake’s album Justified, receiving a Grammy Award in the category of Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. Joined by childhood friend Shae Haley, the Neptunes also helmed production for all five N.E.R.D albums to date. The year 2020 marked a new era for the duo. Collaborating in the studio with Rihanna, Lil Nas X, Dua Lipa, Beck, SZA, Lil Uzi Vert, and more, the “Neptunes sound” continues to forever transform the careers of A-list superstars and the culture at large.
Two-time Grammy-winning multiplatinum producer Chad Hugo quietly stands out as a proficient multi-instrumentalist whose arsenal includes piano, guitar, and saxophone. Highsnobiety pegged him as “one of the more influential producers from the past few decades,” while Grammy.com described his music as “magical.” As one half of the Neptunes, with childhood friend Pharrell Williams, Hugo has impacted multiple eras of popular music. After producing “Use Your Heart'' for SWV, the group launched one of the most unprecedented and unparalleled runs in music history. Simultaneously, Hugo launched the influential performance group N.E.R.D. with Williams and Shae Haley during one of the most lauded periods for the Neptunes’s music. His production defined the band’s genre-busting sound on the gold-certified In Search of…, The Neptunes Present…Clones, and Fly or Die, in addition to Seeing Sounds, Nothing, and No_One Ever Really Dies, which included the double-platinum single “Lemon'' featuring Rihanna. Along the way, Hugo also established himself as a sought-after solo producer. In addition to working on tracks for Yuna, the Internet, E-40, and Mos Def, he produced “Baby Girl” for Bryce Vine in 2020. Expanding his influence, the cloud-based music creation and collaboration platform Splice sought Hugo out to release his first-ever sound pack, consisting of 150 classic sounds.
Visionary recording artist, producer, songwriter, philanthropist, fashion designer, and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams has been a creative force in the music industry and beyond for more than two decades. From his beginnings as a teenage prodigy and multi-instrumentalist in the early 1990s to being named Billboard’s Producer of the Decade in 2010 (as a member of the Neptunes with Chad Hugo) to his current status as multimedia superstar, Williams has never stopped creating. The music industry has honored Williams with 13 Grammy Awards, including three awards for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ prestigious Golden Note Award in 2012. In 2014, his original song “Happy,” featured in the film Despicable Me 2, received an Academy Award nomination and remained atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 10 consecutive weeks. In 2017, Williams received an Academy Award nomination as one of the producers for Hidden Figures, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for coscoring the film. In 2019, he founded Yellow, a nonprofit working to even the odds for all youth through education. Williams has excelled as a fashion designer with his Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream apparel brands, the textile company Bionic Yarn, and collaborations with Adidas and Chanel. In April 2019, Williams launched Something in the Water, a multiday music festival and cultural experience to unite the community and celebrate the diversity and magic of Virginia Beach. In June 2019, he released "Letter to My Godfather," an Emmy-nominated original song for Netflix’s Black Godfather honoring legendary music executive Clarence Avant. Williams also produced five songs on the soundtrack for Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King. Last fall, he and David Grutman opened a restaurant and cocktail lounge called Swan and Bar Bevy in Miami’s Design District. Williams and Grutman also collaborated to open the Goodtime Hotel in Miami earlier this year. In 2020, Williams launched Black Ambition, a nonprofit initiative to provide a bridge to success for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs launching tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products/services start-ups. In November 2020, Williams announced his newest venture, Humanrace, a skincare line. He recently collaborated with Jay-Z on “Entrepreneur,” a song celebrating and empowering Black entrepreneurs. A longtime advocate for racial justice, Williams was an integral part in the talks with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam about Juneteenth being a permanent paid state holiday.
A theatrical icon and one of Broadway's greatest triple-threats, Chita Rivera is one of the most nominated performers in Tony Award history, earning 10 nominations throughout her illustrious career. She has won two Tonys and received the 2018 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. A versatile actress, singer, and dancer, her most recent starring roles include The Visit, the final John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Terrence McNally musical on Broadway; the Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood; the Broadway and touring productions of The Dancer’s Life; and the revival of the Broadway musical Nine. Rivera trained as a ballerina from age 9 before receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from the legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Her first appearance was at age 17, performing as a principal dancer in the touring production of Call Me Madam. Her electric performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Story brought her stardom; she would go on to repeat the iconic role in London. Rivera’s career is highlighted by starring roles in Bye Bye Birdie; The Rink, for which she received the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical; Chicago; Jerry’s Girls; Kiss of the Spider Woman, when she received her second Tony Award; and original Broadway casts of Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Seventh Heaven, and Mr. Wonderful. On tour, Rivera performed in Born Yesterday; The Rose Tattoo; Threepenny Opera; Sweet Charity; Kiss Me Kate; Zorba; and Can-Can with the Rockettes. Rivera was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009, and received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in 2002. In 2019, she performed her solo concert at London’s Cadogan Hall; the previous year, she was honored as a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. In 2016, she headlined at Carnegie Hall, and in 2015, PBS program Great Performances aired the special “Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” a retrospective of her extraordinary life and career. Her current solo album is And Now I Swing. Rivera’s most treasured production is her daughter—singer, dancer, and choreographer Lisa Mordente.
Acclaimed pianist André Watts burst upon the music world at age 16 when Leonard Bernstein selected him to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic for a concert broadcast nationally on CBS. More than half a century later, Watts remains one of the world’s most distinguished and celebrated performing artists. Born in Nuremberg, Germany, Watts was a piano prodigy, receiving a Grammy Award for New Classical Artist as a teenager, and an honorary doctorate from Yale University by age 26. Among numerous honors, Watts received the Avery Fisher Prize, the National Medal of Arts, and an Emmy Award nomination. He was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame in 2006, the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2014, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017. A perennial favorite among orchestras in the U.S., Watts is a regular performer with major summer music festivals and tours. He has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Philadelphia, and, on tour, with the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Nashville symphonies, among others. His international performances include concerto and recital appearances in Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, and Spain. In the fall of 2017, Watts toured with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, including a concert at Carnegie Hall, and in September 2018, he returned to the Philadelphia Orchestra as the featured soloist for the opening concerts of the orchestra’s 2018–2019 season. A frequent television performer, he has appeared on numerous programs produced by PBS, the BBC, and A&E networks, performing with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and various others. His 1976 New York recital for Live from Lincoln Center was the first full-length recital broadcast in the history of television. Watts’s extensive discography includes recordings of works by Gershwin, Chopin, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky; recital CDs of works by Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, and Chopin; and recordings featuring the concertos of Liszt, MacDowell, Tchaikovsky, and Saint-Saens. Watts was appointed to the Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair in Music at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in May 2004; in 2017, he was named a Distinguished Professor, the university’s highest academic rank.