International Stars Celebrate with the Class of 2008

  Four of the five honorees sat in with the student band at the May 9 commencement concert. Graduating senior Rebecca Muir was joined by honoree Steve Winwood for a duet on his hit song "Roll with It."
  Rosa Passos sang a bossa nova she cowrote titled "Verão."
  Philip Bailey sang the Earth Wind & Fire hit "Reasons." Howard Shore (not pictured) conducted music he composed for the film Naked Lunch.
  Phil Farnsworth

For the 840 graduates and other attendees, Berklee's commencement concert and baccalaureate ceremony were once again an unforgettable event. Also f?ted during the festivities at Boston University's Agganis Arena were this year's honorees: Brazilian bossa nova sensation Rosa Passos, Philip Bailey and Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire, rock superstar Steve Winwood, and Oscar-winning film composer Howard Shore.

At the May 9 tribute concert produced by Berklee's Yo Team, Professor Ken Zambello, the musical director, announced that the 88 singers and instrumentalists on hand constituted the largest talent pool ever assembled for the event. (Berklee faculty members and students from Boston Conservatory of Music swelled the ranks.)

The show opened with an overview of the diverse musical output of the five honorees. A student vocal octet kicked things off, trading melody and harmony lines over the funky backbeat of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Sing a Song" before turning the spotlight over to Ryan Pinkston who sang the EW&F chestnut "September." The focus then went to Latin grooves with "Ladeira da Preguica" and "Samurai," two songs recorded by Rossa Passos, Next, the full forces of the orchestra were under the baton of student conductor Fred Smith for Howard Shore's suite from the movie score for The Aviator. Steve Winwood's music followed with Rebecca Muir singing the lead on "While You See a Chance." Owen McGreehan and Amy Heidemann took turns singing "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'," a sample of Winwood's early hits with the Spencer Davis Group.

Four of the honorees made cameo appearances onstage. Rossa Passos sang her introspective bossa nova "Verão," and Howard Shore conducted a suite from his score to Naked Lunch. Winwood came out for an energetic duet with graduating senior Rebecca Muir on his hit "Roll with It." Philip Bailey's trademark falsetto elicited roars of approval from the crowd when he sang the EW&F hit "Fantasy." The show ended with all student vocalists onstage for Winwood's "Shining Star."

The next morning, President Roger H. Brown presented honorary degrees to Bailey, White, Winwood, Shore, and Passos. Bailey delivered the commencement address, and began by thanking Maurice White for bringing him into the Earth, Wind & Fire family. He stressed the importance of the countless musicians, teachers, mentors, role models, friends, and family who have influenced him. "Why do I feel the need to mention all these people on this occasion? It's because of a lesson I learned a long time ago that I'll never forget. I pass it on to you in hopes that you too will never forget that none of us-no matter how intelligent, or talented, or creative, or well connected-ever makes it all by himself. Each of us stands on the shoulders of great men and women who have walked before us."

Bailey also offered these words of advice: "Never lose your creativity. Never lose your excitement. Never lose your pure love for music. Years from now, wherever life may have taken you, whatever you may be doing for a living, you'll still be hearing the music. I pray that you will always take the gift of music with you as a professional, as a part-time practitioner, or as a full-time enthusiast. Don't take your ability to hear what others can't for granted."

Film composer and Berklee alumnus Howard Shore '68, a three-time Academy Award winner for his scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, referenced an idea of director Ingmar Bergman that movies convey illusion when will and intellect are cast aside to make way for the imagination. "Music works in the same fashion," he said. "There is no other art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affect our emotions directly, not via the intellect."

From the left: Honorary doctor of music recipents Steve Winwood, Rosa Passos, Philip Bailey, and Maurice White, Berklee President Roger Brown, and doctorate recipient Howard Shore.  
Nick Balkin  

Multi-instrumentalist Steve Winwood, who has inspired countless musicians over the course of his four-decade career, said, "I would never have thought that I would be part of Berklee's class of 2008 at the age of 60," alluding to his approaching May 12 birthday. After expressing gratitude to the Berklee community for the honor he received and praising the students who performed in the tribute concert, Winwood said, "Berklee, you are a light. Keep on shining."

As regards the makeup of this year's graduates, women constituted 31 percent of this year's graduating class. International students from 54 different countries (the greatest proportions of which were from South Korea and Japan) comprised 30 percent of the class. American graduates hailed from 47 different states, with the largest representations coming from Massachusetts, New York, and California. As the ceremony concluded, the graduates left the Agganis Arena with a determination to make their mark on the music world.