Dianne Reeves, Steven Tyler Deliver Commencement Address
A record 695 graduates from some 50 countries received degrees today at Berklee College of Music's 2003 Commencement, held at the Reggie Lewis Track Center in Boston. Honorary doctor of music degrees were presented during the ceremony to Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, and iconic, rock frontman Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.
Both honorees addressed the graduating class and more than 3,000 guests in attendance. A two-time Grammy winner, Dianne Reeves is regarded as one of the purest, most emotive voices in jazz. She noted the importance of taking chances in one's art, saying, "Last night I saw, I was so inspired by the performances of all of the students. And the edge is your friend. See, when you have your tools in order, you can go to that edge, and jump off, and just fly. Everybody was flyin' last night!"
Reflecting on the communication that music affords people of entirely different backgrounds, Reeves said, "…they should call this school, instead of Berklee College of Music, "Berklee College of the language of the soul." This language that we speak is so special. I've had the opportunity to travel all over the world and sing to people who don't even speak English, but understand the exchange of the soul."
Rock legend and a true, Boston hometown hero, Steven Tyler gave a sweet and introspective take on musicians being chosen by music, rather than the other way around. He told the graduates, " I can remember when I was four years old, I said to my mother, "Mommy, when I grow up I wanna be a musician." She said, "You can't do both."
Tyler also spoke to what was common to every musician, saying, "We share those qualities of passion and ambition. All of us in this room may be different shapes, sizes, colors, may have different interpretations of a G string, and come from different places. But it's the DNA that tags us as members of the same tribe. In other words, we're all here ‘cause we're not all there. And that's a really good thing!"
In accepting their honorary doctor of music degrees from Berklee, Reeves and Tyler joined the ranks of such esteemed past recipients as Duke Ellington, David Bowie, Count Basie, B.B. King, Sting, James Taylor, Pat Metheny, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, Quincy Jones, and Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan.
The Commencement Concert
The 2003 Commencement Concert took place the evening before graduation, on Friday, May 9, in the Berklee Performance Center. Many of the college's most accomplished students — many of them graduating seniors — presented this tribute to the honorees, performing selections from each of their extremely distinguished careers.
Among the twenty songs performed were Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion," as well as Reeves' "Nine," and a song very much associated with her career, "Hello, Haven't I Seen You Before."
Each of the honorees joined the student band onstage to perform — a Berklee Commencement tradition that has been carried forward by previous honorary doctorate recipients Duke Ellington, Natalie Cole, Phil Collins, Chick Corea, and a host of other performing greats, over the last 30 years.
Dianne Reeves was moved to go onstage and call for "a blues in G," inviting several of the student singers on stage. They took turns scatting and improvising lyrics in the moment, trading lines and clearly enjoying themselves.
Later, Steven Tyler came to the stage to sing lead with the students in a sweeping, emotional version of Aerosmith's "Dream On," augmented by horns and a string section. Both honoree performances were met with thunderous, standing ovations from the capacity crowd.
The Billboard Endowed Scholarship
During the commencement concert, student Rafael Alcala from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico was presented with one of Berklee's most prestigious awards, the Billboard Endowed Scholarship. This scholarship, presented annually to outstanding student performers, was established at Berklee in 1995 with a major gift from Billboard magazine. Alcala, a gifted jazz pianist in his third year at Berklee, will lead a student quartet representing the college at September's Monterey Jazz Festival.