Distinguished Alumni Reconnect

From Rihanna to Avenue Q, Chicago classrooms to creating award-winning sushi, Berklee alumni are excelling in engaging careers in a variety of industries. The Office of Alumni Affairs recently honored eight alumni with Alumni Achievement Awards, bringing the group to campus for a day of reconnecting, networking, video shoots, a reception, and an awards ceremony.

The cohort included Grammy-winning blues guitarist and singer Susan Tedeschi-Trucks ’91, megahit songwriter Makeba Riddick-Woods ’99, Broadway music supervisor and arranger Stephen Oremus ’92, music business entrepreneur and talent coordinator Cristina Abaroa ’91, award-winning restaurateur Tim Cushman ’80, celebrated music educator Robert Vega ’06, Oscar-winning sound designer and engineer Eugene Gearty ’82, and Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Mihail Jojatu ’99 (Boston Conservatory at Berklee).

During the April 5th awards ceremony, Berklee faculty and administrators representing the areas of study pursued by each awardee made presentations. Introducing Gearty, Michael Bierylo, chair of Electronic Production and Design, shared that Gearty has aligned himself with a number of thoughtful and profound filmmakers. Bierylo characterized him as “one of a breed of smart sound designers whose sound design is sublime and tells the story.”

Peter Gordon, director of the Berklee Center in Los Angeles, called Cristina Abaroa an entrepreneur and a role model for women. “To see what she has achieved as the CEO of her own company is remarkable,” Gordon said. He mentioned a few of Abaroa’s clients including Lady Gaga, Céline Dion, Ricky Martin, and Plácido Domingo and praised her music production work for the Latin Grammys.

Cecil Adderly, chair of music education, introduced his former student, Robert Vega. People magazine included Vega among its top five teachers of the year in 2012. “He had the ability to shape young minds while a student here, Adderly stated. “And now, he is [continuing] in the Chicagoland public schools.”

Riddick-Wood has co-written and produced songs for Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, and Eminem among others. Don Gorder, chair of the Music Business/Management Department shared that Riddick-Woods was a music business major at Berklee. “Many of our department’s students want to pursue their career on the creative side,” Gorder said. “She’s had nine number one songs, multiple Grammy nominations, and worked with the who’s who of the industry.”

Tim Cushman’s Boston restaurant O Ya was named among the nation’s top 10 sushi restaurants by Bon Appetite and Details magazines, and one of the top in the world by Food and Wine. Introducing Cushman, assistant professor Ben Houge related hearing Cushman once describe his new dishes and menus in terms of musical contrast, harmony, and counterpoint. “He is a role model for students to take what they learn at Berklee, and apply it in new and unexpected ways in the industry,” Houge said.

Stephen Oremus has served as the arranger and music supervisor for smash Broadway musicals Wicked, Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, and others. Associate professor Eric Stern said, “Being a musical supervisor on Broadway is not a skill, it is one hundred skills, including conductor, pianist, arranger, co-composer, casting director, song doctor, diplomat, father confessor, and disciplinarian. Stephen has proven himself agile in all of these aspects of the career.”

Romanian-born Mihail Jojatu became a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra cello section in 2001. One of his first gigs was playing with the Boston Pops Orchestra at the 2002 Superbowl in New Orleans. Cathy Young, executive director of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, spoke of Jojatu’s path to successfully landing a chair in a major American orchestra.

Singer Susan Tedeschi-Trucks has opened for such acts as the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers Band, B.B. King, and many more, and currently tours with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which she coleads with her husband Derek Trucks. She was introduced by Dennis Montgomery, who coached her as a student in the Berklee Gospel Choir. “To see Susan go higher and higher in her creativity and career has been very rewarding,” said Montgomery.  

Roger Brown summed things up by saying, “It has been an honor to be the president of the institution that has produced people like you. You’ve inspired the students here now to follow in your footsteps.”