Berklee Today

Music Stars and Berklee Community Members Mark the Inauguration of Roger H. Brown

  Roger Brown
  Roger H. Brown, seen at the podium and on the video screen, spoke of Berklee's heritage and shared a vision for its future.
  All photos by Farnsworth Blalock photos

For the first time in the history of the college, Berklee formally celebrated the inauguration of a new president on Friday, December 3, 2004. Roger H. Brown was formally welcomed into office with a ceremony at the Hynes Convention Center. Among the honored guest speakers at the inauguration ceremony were singer James Taylor, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair William Donaldson, and Harvard Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, who each gave personal introductions of Brown. Singer Chaka Khan and drummer Dennis Chambers were awarded honorary doctorates, and Grammy-winning saxophonist Joe Lovano was among the luminaries who performed at the inauguration concert Friday night.

Chaka Kahn and Dennis Chambers  
Chaka Khan and Dennis Chambers received honorary degrees at the December 3, 2004, inauguration ceremony.  

Inaugural festivities were scheduled throughout the week including a series of four concerts and four seminars featuring faculty presentations and discussions touching on film scoring, improvisation, general education, and Berklee's future. The Gospel Choir, the Rainbow Jazz Band, and other ensembles performed at the concerts.

Opening the exercises at the Hynes Convention Center on December 3 was Berklee College of Music's Board of Trustees Chair Allan T. McLean, who said, "Berklee was founded on some very different and revolutionary thinking, so this celebration will be different than your typical installation ceremony. We hope to capture the solemnity of the occasion with a Berklee twist." True to McLean's words, the proceedings featured a range of musical offerings, introductions by student and faculty representatives, Linda Mason (Brown's wife), the honored guests, and more. Professor Henry Augustine Tate provided the invocation, reading a poem titled "The Journey" by Mary Oliver. Faculty members Donna McElroy (vocals) and Jetro Da Silva (piano) then gave a soulful rendition of "America the Beautiful."

  James Taylor
  James Taylor, who shared his thoughts at the ceremony, applauds President Brown's speech.

William Donaldson, who was a professor of Brown's at Yale University, said, "Roger represents my dream of what could happen to the students as they moved out into the real world. Leadership, integrity, entrepreneurial zest, intelligence, willingness to question, social responsibility-that's Roger Brown." James Taylor, said, "It is usually only in retrospect that we know for certain that a major change has come. But I feel today that Berklee is on the cusp of an important new chapter in its history. [Brown] is the right man, in the right place, at the right time."

Next, Voice Department Associate Professor Kathryn Wright and a seven-piece chamber group premiered a song cycle with movements written by Composition Department members Andrew List, Jonathan Holland, Francine Trester, and James Reyes. The texts were selected from the writings of Bengali poet Rabindrinath Tagore, one of Brown's favorites.

Joe Lovano  
Joe Lovano played two of his own tunes in a trio setting at the inaugural concert.  

As the centerpiece of the event, Allan McLean administered the oath of office to Brown and former president Lee Eliot Berk presented Brown with the Berklee medallion. Taking center stage, Brown stated, "I want to thank Allan McLean, Lee Berk, the board of trustees, and the entire Berklee community for your confidence in me." Brown then spoke of the path to Berklee and shared his hopes for the future of the college. He closed by relating a conversation that took place as he drove from Cambridge toward Boston with a man from Sudan who was visiting America for the first time. "I asked him what he thought of this place," related Brown. "He paused for a long moment and replied, 'Your ancestors have been very busy.' My hope is that when our children's children host visitors from some foreign land and show them around Boston, they will marvel at the Berklee campus and say, 'Your ancestors have been very busy.' And they will mean us!"

Following his speech, Brown presented honorary doctoral degrees to Chaka Khan and Dennis Chambers for their accomplishments in contemporary music. Capping the ceremony was an electrifying performance of the gospel song "Holy" by Dennis Montgomery, III and the Berklee Reverence Gospel Ensemble.

  Chaka Kahn
  Honorary degree recipient Chaka Khan joined the student band onstage to sing the lead in their rendition of her hit song "Through the Fire."

Later that evening, in the Berklee Performance Center, some of Berklee's top student and faculty vocalists and instrumentalists presented a memorable concert. Highlights included a pair of tunes played by saxophonist Joe Lovano with bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Francisco Mela, a standout performance of a new gospel song, "Step by Step" by Livingston Taylor, backed by the ensemble Overjoyed, a cameo appearance by Dennis Chambers drumming on the Billy Cobham tune "Stratus," and Chaka Kahn singing "Through the Fire." The curtain fell on the historic inaugural events of the day to strains of the encore, Sly Stone's "Dance to the Music."