Berklee Confers Degrees on Shirley Horn, David Foster, and 661 Graduates at May 11 Commencement
After the lights went down in the Berklee Performance Center signaling the start of the 2002 commencement concert, there was a ripple of applause and then a hush fell over the capacity crowd. Instead of a barnstorming opener, duo pianists Hiromi Uehara and Oliver Rockberger kicked off the May 10 show with a tastefully crafted overture based on several of the songs associated with this year's honorees, David Foster and Shirley Horn. Uehara and Rockberger alternated melody and accompaniment roles, playfully challenging each with traded choruses that elicited numerous cheers from the audience. The full band took the cue and joined them on Foster's "Winter Games" instrumental.
Gina Cuchetti and Claude Kelly took center stage next and sang a vocal duet of the Foster/Peter Cetera hit, "You're My Inspiration." From there, it was into the Great American Songbook for Cole Porter's "Get Out of Town" and Spencer Williams's "Basin Street Blues," both in tribute to Shirley Horn. Singer Dee Lavender and the band did the latter in classic Dixieland style complete with a double-time instrumental section. Other Horn tributes included "Why Don't You Do Right?," "Here's To Life," "Summertime," and "Sunday in New York."
Renditions of songs penned by Foster included "After the Love Has Gone," "To Love You More," "Heart to Heart," and a medley of three of his top movie themes ("If Not for Love" from Stealing Home, "Water Fountain" from The Secret of My Success, and the "Love Theme" from St. Elmo's Fire). Singer Alisa Miles delighted the audience by summoning Foster from the audience to the piano to join the band on "Through the Fire." For the finale, all 15 vocalists and 33 instrumentalists (including 14 string players) appeared onstage for Foster's anthem "Tears Are Not Enough." When it was all over, both Horn and Foster congratulated the jubilant musicians, posed for pictures, and signed autographs.
The next morning at 10:00 a.m., clad in caps and gowns, the honorees, college leaders, trustees, faculty members, and grads marched to their seats in the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center to the sounds of a brass processional composed by graduating senior Marcus Sjöwall. Provost Harry Chalmiers gave the call to order and introduced those seated on the dais.
As this year's commencement speaker, David Foster told the graduates to develop a professional attitude. "Don't be a musical snob," he said. "I guarantee that Kenny G and Herb Alpert are just as fulfilled as John Coltrane and Miles Davis were. All of them got to play their own music exactly as they wanted and got to maximize their musical capabilities. Why do some musicians get all the great gigs and opportunities? It's not talent, it's attitude."
Before conferring the honorary doctorates upon the guests, President Lee Eliot Berk introduced both Horn and Foster. Speaking of Foster, he said, "David Foster is numbered among the most successful producers in pop music history." Berk cited Foster's 14 Grammy Awards, and one Golden Globe Award for his work on platinum-selling records with artists such as Céline Dion, Whitney Houston, Peter Cetera, Natalie Cole, Toni Braxton, Lionel Richie, Earth, Wind and Fire, and many others.
Turning to Horn, President Berk called her "one of the most distinctive song stylists in jazz." He recalled her early days and how Miles Davis helped to boost her into the limelight. He noted that she has released 24 albums, including her 1998 Grammy-winning effort, I Remember Miles.
As she accepted her award, Shirley Horn said, "Thank you, very much. Last night I sat at the concert not knowing that I would be so affected by this great music, these musicians, and their dedication. It made me very proud to say, 'I am a musician; I'm one of you.' I wish you Godspeed. Be smart, but go get 'em!"