Berklee Today

Cuban Music Legend Honored

  Israel "Cachao" López: "The great thing is that everyone fits in here, from the Japanese to the Cuban."
  Photos by Phil Farnsworth

At Berklee's November 7, 2006, Latin Culture Celebration concert, Cuban bassist and composer Israel "Cachao" López was awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of his many achievements over the course of his seven-decade career.

The concert and honorary doctorate ceremony for the four-time Grammy winner was months in the making. Professor Oscar Stagnaro (the musical director of the tribute concert); Natalia Bernal, Miguel Raygoza, Perla Flores, and Jane Stachowiak of the Latin Culture Committee; and Assistant Professor Bernardo Hernandez and Professors Mili Bermejo and Victor Mendoza worked together to produce an unforgettable night that the 88-year-old bass legend said made him feel so good that he "felt 15 again."

The evening opened with a performance by Edmar Castrañeda, a Colombian harpist, and his trio. Their five-song set ended with an improvisation based on one of Cachao's most famous descargas bass lines.

Tapping into the spirit of the event, Berklee President Roger H. Brown welcomed the audience to the Berklee Performance Center in Spanish. Before presenting the honorary degree to Cachao, Brown remarked on the artist's staying power, "It's a very small number of musicians who can claim to be cocreator of a worldwide musical sensation during their twenties and also the recipient of a Grammy award for work done 60 years later. Cuban bassist Israel 'Cachao' López is such a musician." As Brown told the crowd, in the 1940s, Cachao was one of three Cuban musicians named as the creators of the mambo dance craze that spread worldwide and that Cachao's recent recording, ?Ahora S?!, received a 2005 Grammy Award.

The octogenarian bassist took the stage with the 22-piece band to play his song "Lindo Yambu."  

After Cachao received his honorary degree, he took the podium to express his gratitude and offer a few thoughts about Berklee. "It has taken a lot of work, but this institution is keeping music alive," he said. "The great thing is that everyone fits in here, from the Japanese to the Cuban. Everyone is here, from the entire world."

True to Cachao's observation, the band that took the stage for the tribute concert featured musicians from several states as well as from such countries as Japan, Italy, Chile, Israel, Puerto Rico, and more. Cachao thrilled the audience by joining the 22-piece band for the last song of the night, a tune he cowrote titled "Lindo Yambu."