Herb Alpert, Patti Austin, and VH1's John Sykes Honored at Berklee's 2000 Graduation

Brenda Pike
May 13, 2000

Earlier today, three figures who have made major, indelible contributions to the field of popular music received honorary Doctor of Music degrees at Berklee College of Music. Trumpeter/producer Herb Alpert, R&B and jazz diva Patti Austin, and VH1 CEO and Save the Music champion John Sykes were honored at Berklee's 2000 commencement, Saturday, May 13, at the Reggie Lewis Track Center in Boston. John Sykes was the principal speaker to 567 graduates and 3,000 guests. Austin and Alpert also addressed the graduates. The three honorees join such illustrious Berklee honorary doctorate recipients as Duke Ellington, B.B. King, Patti LaBelle, Sting, James Taylor, Pat Metheny, Dizzy Gillespie, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, and alumnus Quincy Jones.

Graduates, faculty, trustees, and honorary doctorate recipients marched into the commencement ceremony to processional music composed by graduate Cesar Benito, from Marbella, Spain. Graduate Michael Sean Harris, a native of Jamaica, won the Commencement Speech competition and delivered the student address.

In his remarks to the graduates, President Lee Eliot Berk announced that, effective today, all members of the Berklee Class of 2000 will have a free, lifetime email account, and that this service will be available to all other Berklee alumni in September. An online directory will be available so that all alumni will be able to contact each other.

The principal speaker was John Sykes, president of VH1, and founder of the Save the Music Foundation, which is helping public school music education programs around the country. "By the end of this year," said Sykes, "we will put $10 million worth of music instruments in school music program in 40 cities, directly affecting over 200,000 kids. That's a nice beginning. But, hopefully, we can use our power as a television network to raise awareness about the need to put music education back in our schools."

Sykes concluded his address to the graduates by saying, "When you leave here today, armed with arguably the best music degree in the world, the first word you will probably hear is 'no.' Don't worry, because that is where your journey begins, and that's when the fun begins, because, through all the ups and downs, the victories and the mistakes, there is nothing more gratifying than defying conventional wisdom and achieving success on your terms. Think. Observe. Ask. Experiment. Dare. Pursue. Aggravate. Surprise. Shock. Amaze. Succeed. And, above all, do it on your own terms."

After receiving the honorary doctor of music degree, legendary trumpeter and producer Herb Alpert remarked, "It feels to me like the quality of musicianship worldwide is at an all-time high, but, unfortunately, the recording industry at this moment has tunnel vision. I hope in time the public, the press, and programmers will realize that, as musicians, we are not just making product, but we are looking deep inside ourselves to find a very special expression called music."

President Berk read a fax he received from Berklee alumnus Quincy Jones '51, congratulating his goddaughter Patti Austin on her honorary doctorate. An ardent volunteer, Austin told the graduates of her discovery of her own musical purpose a few years ago when she sang for children at a hospital. "You all have the power to heal. Music is tremendously powerful. I ask you to take all of this incredible technique that you have acquired here, and put it into that mixer called your soul, and always send it out with love and with joy and with passion. And always follow your bliss. And never let anyone define you. But always work from love, and whatever you do on this planet will always work out right."

On commencement eve, at the Berklee Performance Center—widely considered to be one of the East Coast's finest medium-sized concert —Berklee students presented a unique, once-in-a-lifetime concert tribute to the three honorees, performing selections associated with their award-winning careers.

An extraordinary musician, Herb Alpert's trumpet playing has earned him seven Grammy Awards, fifteen gold albums, fourteen platinum albums and five #1 hits. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass propelled Latino music into the pop music limelight, at one point outselling the Beatles two to one. His most recent record, Herb Alpert and Colors, coproduced with Will Calhoun '86 and Doug Wimbish, received a 1999 Grammy nomination.

Through their commitment to artists with personal vision, Alpert and his partner Jerry Moss guided A&M Records from a humble Hollywood garage operation into the largest independently owned record company in the world. Great performers such as Carole King, Cat Stevens, Styx, Supertramp, The Carpenters, Sting and Janet Jackson were evidence of the consistent quality and diversity of the A&M records roster.

Herb Alpert has utilized his gifts and drive to explore other artistic avenues. During the last two decades, Alpert has emerged as a critically acclaimed abstract expressionist painter and sculptor, exhibiting internationally. He has also chosen to involve himself in the world of Broadway theatre. His producing credits include the Tony Award/Pulitzer Prize winning production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. He has also co-produced Jelly's Last Jam, Arthur Miller's Broken Glass, and August Wilson's Seven Guitars.

Alpert's most serious contribution may yet be his most important. The Herb Alpert Foundation assists educational and arts programs dedicated to the training of young people, helping them to discover their own potential and unique energy. An example of the Foundation's work is the 1998 bequest rededicating Berklee's Stan Getz Media Center and Library to the memory of master saxophonist Getz. Alpert joined the college's Board of Overseers in 1999.

A gifted vocalist from her earliest years, Patti Austin has delivered remarkable music since the popular singer was a child. Her father was a jazz trombonist, and their home was constantly filled with music and musicians. Before she was ten years old, Patti was performing with greats like Sammy Davis Jr., her godfather, Quincy Jones '51, and her godmother, Dinah Washington. Upon graduation from high school, Patti began touring with Harry Belafonte.

Her career's high notes include the evergreen duets with James Ingram, including their number one record, "Baby Come to Me;" the big R&B hit "The Heat of Heat" produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis; and her two decades of collaborations with Quincy Jones, including the CDs Juke Joint, and The Dude. Another Austin/Ingram duet, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing," from the film Best Friends, was nominated for an Oscar.

Her commercial and jingle singing is legendary, and includes many memorable, stick-in-your-head performances. During the '70s and '80s she became one of the most in-demand session singers in New York. That work includes credits with Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Frankie Valli, Joe Cocker, George Benson, Roberta Flack, the Marshall Tucker Band, Steely Dan, and the Blues Brothers. Her most recent release is her 1999 collection of American standards, Street of Dreams on Platinum Music. Austin visited the college this past November to share her experiences with Berklee students and faculty.

John Sykes is president of VH1, one of the fastest-growing networks in cable television, now reaching 70 million US television homes. He joined the network in 1994, and since his arrival has dedicated VH1 to "Music First," telling the stories of both new and established artists in such programs as Legends, Storytellers, Before They Were Rock Stars, and Behind the Music, which have featured numerous Berklee alumni and faculty.

Under Sykes, VH1 is also helping to raise public awareness about the critical importance of music participation for American youth. The VH1 Save the Music Foundation, which Sykes began in 1997, works to help restore music education in the nation's public schools. By the end of this year, Save the Music will have restored more than 500 school music programs in 40 American cities, enriching the lives of more than 200,000 children. Sykes' tireless efforts to reintroduce the nation's leaders, famous musicians,and educators to one another, toward the common goal of reviving music education in America, are beginning to pay off.

Sykes is a music industry veteran, beginning his career at CBS Records in 1977. He joined Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment to be part of the pioneering team that launched MTV: Music Television, and then moved to the Creative Artists Agency. His next stop was as President of Champion Entertainment, where he guided the careers of such artists as John Mellencamp, Mariah Carey, and Carly Simon.

From there, he became president of Chrysalis Records, leading the company to its best sales year ever. Immediately prior to joining VH1, Sykes was executive vice president of Talent Acquisition and Marketing at EMI Music Publishing Worldwide, where he signed and developed such artists as Stone Temple Pilots and Counting Crows.