Where the Greats Go to Graduate

  "You should not be discouraged by one simple little failure or the loss of an opportunity...it's usually at a point where you least expect when something really big happens."
- Duke Ellington, 1971

As Berklee bestowed its first bachelor's degrees on the class of 1966, the school faced a student population explosion and a major change in popular music.Berklee addressed these changes by expanding its facilities, faculty, and curriculum, and began building upon its foundation of jazz education with the first college-level courses in contemporary pop music.

Five years later, Berklee continued its effort to reflect and embrace the ever-changing music industry by beginning to award honorary Doctor of Music degrees to industry legends and luminaries. This practice serves to not only acknowledge great accomplishments and artistry but to put before students music greats who can help inspire them to succeed.

The first recipient of an honorary degree from Berklee was Duke Ellington, in 1971. Though Ellington gave an informal speech after receiving his doctorate, it was alumnus Arif Mardin, then vice president of Atlantic Records, who delivered the Commencement address at the milestone ceremony.


From left to right, President Lee Eliot Berk, Quincy Jones, Arif Mardin, and Chancellor Lawrence Berk at the 1983 Commencement.


  "The main thing in my life, even as I stand here right now, right this second, is that I really need to go home and practice."
- Pat Metheny, 1996

"You must never stop learning and perfecting your art, even after the time you start to reap the rewards of your hard-earned career," Mardin said. "You must ask the same question of yourselves: did I do my best, did I explore all the possibilities, did I give this project my undivided attention?" Ellington's and Mardin's participation that day began a trend that has annually enriched and brought surprises to Berklee's Commencement ceremonies. Other honorees have included B.B. King, Sarah Vaughn, Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Tito Puente, Sting, Pat Metheny, Tony Bennett and Bonnie Raitt.


Portions of this article were excerpted from BERKLEE: THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS, by Ed Hazell. Copies are on sale at the Berklee Bookstore, call (617) 267-0023.