President Roger H. Brown's 2016 Commencement Remarks

Berklee College of Music’s honorary Doctor of Music degree was established in 1971, following the college’s 25th anniversary, to recognize those musicians and industry figures who have earned the overwhelming respect of their peers for outstanding professional achievement and enduring contributions to the world of contemporary music. 

Duke Ellington was the first recipient of the honorary doctorate and was followed by such artists as Sarah Vaughan, George Martin, Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Bonnie Raitt, Pat Metheny, B.B. King, Paul Simon, Sting, Alison Krauss, Harry Belafonte, Placido Domingo, Aretha Franklin, and other jazz, pop, and industry figures representing the wide range of musical interests of Berklee’s students, faculty, and alumni.

Lucian Grainge

A music fan who grew up in North London, Lucian Grainge has spent his entire professional life in the music industry. By the time he was 18, he was working as a talent scout and song plugger for April Music. His first big artist signing was the Psychedelic Furs in 1979. By 1986, Lucian was working at Universal Music Group, tasked with launching PolyGram Music Publishing UK. Within a few years, he had led that fledgling division to become one of the top three music publishers in his country. For more than a decade, Lucian held a variety of executive positions at Universal before becoming the chair and CEO of the company in 2011. Today, Universal is the world’s top major music label.

Throughout his celebrated career, Lucian has worked closely with songwriters and artists, including U2, Elton John, Metallica, the Eurythmics, Rihanna, and JAY Z, to name a few. Those around him said he could smell a hit, a sentiment backed up by words offered by Sting and Lionel Richie for Lucian’s honor here today. Sting says, “Lucian started out as a music publisher and still possesses an understanding and a profound respect for the essential raw material of the music industry: the song. This reverence for the art of music and our sacred craft, combined with an undiluted passion and tenacity, have made him one of the most successful executives in the history of the music business.”

Lionel Richie adds, “Lucian, you cannot write or arrange, but you have one of the best pairs of ears in the business. Careers come from picking great songs.”

After a period of tumult and decline in music industry revenues, Lucian has dramatically improved the financial performance of Universal. He is known for his negotiating skills and his ability to boldly see the big picture. In 2011, he led Universal to acquire the recorded music assets of the legendary British music company EMI and revitalize its iconic Capitol Records imprint. Universal’s vast holdings are now larger than those of the other major labels and include the catalogs of the Beatles, Katy Perry, and Frank Sinatra, among others. 

Lucian has also forged important alliances with tech companies such as Apple, Spotify, Vodaphone, Virgin Media, and more in an effort to connect fans across the globe with the music they love. Irving Azoff, the legendary music manager of the Eagles and Christina Aguilera, told the Los Angeles Times that Lucian is “the great hope for the music [industry]. “

And so for his tireless commitment to music and his dedication to discovering and developing new artists while making sure they are fairly compensated for their work, it is my pleasure to bestow Berklee’s honorary doctorate of music upon Lucian Grainge.

The Isley Brothers

Many artists dream of making groundbreaking contributions to music, but few have done so as many times and across as many decades as our next honorees. Represented here today by Ernie Isley and founding member Ronald Isley, the Isley Brothers began as a Cincinnati gospel group but first captured the world’s attention with their 1959 hit “Shout,” which has since become the go-to soundtrack of the American wedding reception.

In 1962 the Isley Brothers forever altered the course of popular music with their arrangement of “Twist and Shout.” A year later, their take on the song resurfaced in the debut album by a new group called the Beatles, who as some of you may remember, won over U.S. audiences with a performance of the song on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

Of the Isleys’ “Twist and Shout” record, Sir Paul McCartney says, “It was the most exciting sound and made us so inspired, we had to cover it.” McCartney continues, “Amongst the people who know good music, it was definitely cool to like the Isleys.”

The Isley Brothers broke new ground again in 1964 by founding T-Neck Records at a time when African American groups didn’t own labels. The group’s initial single on T-Neck, “Testify,” is not only what some consider to be the first funk song, but also the first professional recording of a new guitar prodigy on the scene by the name of Jimi Hendrix.

More potent funk followed, as did a slew of hits in the years and decades ahead, among them “It’s Your Thing,” “That Lady,” “Fight the Power,” and romantic R&B slow jams like “Between the Sheets.” No other group has reached Billboard’s Top 50 in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s.

Throughout the years, Ernie’s incisive guitar solos and Ronald’s sleek vocals have stood the test of time, as evidenced by the multitude of top artists who continue to sample the Isley Brothers years later, among them Kendrick Lamar, Gwen Stefani, and Ice Cube.

James Samuel “Jimmy Jam” Harris III, the Grammy-winning producer and songwriter of the successful Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis duo, sums up the debt many artists owe to our honorees: “They’re like my idols,” he says. “My whole writing style evolved from what the Isleys did.”

After 60 years of the Isley Brothers, Ronald and Ernie continue to tour and perform. As a matter of fact, they’re playing Nashville tomorrow night. They personify their own cultural decree, one that we’ve all danced to: “It’s your thing; do what you wanna do.” For all of their groundbreaking contributions to music, it is my pleasure to present the honorary Doctor of Music degree to the Isley Brothers.

Milton Nascimento

Milton Nascimento has risen from humble beginnings to become one of the most singular writers and immediately recognizable voices in the world of popular music. Blending Brazilian bossa nova and folk with African, classical, jazz, and rock influences, he is a beloved global ambassador for the Brazilian people, one of the best-known purveyors of their powerful musical culture, and a voice for social justice over a career of more than 40 years.

Born in 1942, Nascimento was adopted by Josino and Lilia Campos. Lilia was a music teacher and choir singer, and by the age of 7 Milton had both a harmonica and a four bass accordion. Using his knees to hold the harmonica and simultaneously pumping the accordion, he spent countless hours on the front porch, “teaching” the instruments to harmonize, using his voice to blend and fill in the missing pitches. 

Perhaps partially as a result of this unique self-training, Nascimento is famous for his otherworldly falsetto and tonal range. Berklee honorary doctorate recipient Herbie Hancock said, ”Milton is a brilliant composer; he has one of the most amazing voices I have ever heard. His melodies are of a simplicity that just hits the core of your heart.” And it was Milton’s late friend, vocal superstar Elis Regina, who said, “If God sang, he would do it with Milton’s voice.”  

Nascimento is known for highly acclaimed songs such as "Maria, Maria," "Canção da América" (Song from America/ Unencounter), "Bailes da Vida,” and "Travessia" (Bridges), his signature tune. Berklee honorary doctorate recipient and former trustee Paul Simon has said, “Milton is most likely the greatest Brazilian songwriter since Antônio Carlos Jobim.”  

In solidarity with social justice movements in his country, he wrote "Coração de Estudante" (Student's Heart) to commemorate the funeral of the student Edson Luís, killed by police officers in 1968, and the song became the hymn of a social movement. It was later performed for the funerals of Brazilian President Tancredo Neves and Formula One superstar Ayrton Senna. Peter Gabriel said, “Milton has the heart of a lion and the voice of an angel. His weapons are emotional melodies, soulful harmonies, and the beautiful sadness of his unique voice. His is a world that knows pain but never loses hope.”

In the early stages of his career, Nascimento played in two samba groups, Evolussamba and Sambacana. In 1963, he moved to Belo Horizonte, where his friendship with musician Lô Borges led to the Clube da Esquina ("corner club") musical collective, whose "Canção do Sal" was first interpreted by Elis Regina in 1966. The collective released Clube da Esquina in 1972.  

His international breakthrough came with his appearance on jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter's 1974 album, Native Dancer. This led to worldwide acclaim and collaborations with stars such as Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, George Duke and Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Peter Gabriel, and the band Earth, Wind and Fire, to name a few. Milton was honored in 2012 with the Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award.

We’ll give Berklee honorary doctorate recipient Wayne Shorter the final word: “As a Brazilian asset, Milton’s cultural value can’t be measured in commercial figures only. Milton’s treasure can be divided in ways not yet imagined.”   

And so, for his legacy of gorgeous songs and remarkable performances, which have influenced popular music worldwide, I am pleased to bestow the honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music on Milton Nascimento.  

Rita Moreno

Over the course of an incredibly versatile career spanning more than seven decades, Rita Moreno has achieved a status that only a dozen people hold. She is an EGOT—having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.

Perhaps her most recognizable role is that of Anita, a member of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks, in the 1961 film version of the Broadway sensation West Side Story, a portrayal for which she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Called “La Pionera” (the Pioneer) by Latino actors, she was the first Hispanic woman to win an Academy Award.

Emilio Estefan, who just last year produced Moreno’s Spanish-language LP, Una Vez Mas, echoed that sentiment, calling her a “pioneer, icon, trailblazer, legend, and the ultimate diva.” He went on to say, “Rita broke through Hollywood at a time that was not only difficult for minority actresses, but very close to impossible. Her talent, her drive, and her determination to succeed set an example for all those who have followed in her footsteps.”

Moreno’s breakout role in West Side Story was preceded by more than two decades’ worth of preparation. Born in Puerto Rico in 1931, she moved to New York with her mother as a young child; soon after, she began taking dance lessons with Spanish dancer Paco Casino, Rita Hayworth’s uncle. Dance recitals, children’s theater productions in Macy’s department store, and performances at weddings and bar mitzvahs followed. By 11, Moreno was dubbing Spanish-language versions of U.S. films.

Even at this young age, she was diversifying her skills across many artistic disciplines—dancing, singing, and acting—setting the stage for later successes in a variety of arenas: TV, the big screen, Broadway, and the recording industry.

Along with her Oscar for West Side Story, Moreno earned a Tony for her role as Googie Gomez in The Ritz and two Emmys for appearances on The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files. Moreno also appeared in the classics Singin’ in the Rain, The King and I, and Carnal Knowledge, and made guest appearances on The Love Boat, The Golden Girls, Miami Vice, Ugly Betty, and Oz.

Moreno’s Grammy comes for her vocal performance on the Electric Company album (1972), but she’s probably best remembered for screaming the popular children’s show’s opening line: “Hey, you guys!” 

Actor Morgan Freeman fondly remembers his time on the show with Moreno, noting, “One of the defining periods of my career was the five years spent being funny and creative with Rita on The Electric Company.” And Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer, composer, and star of Hamilton, the hottest show on Broadway, says, “There’s an old Puerto Rican phrase—a boricuazo, if you will—that describes Rita Moreno perfectly: calzon quitao. Literally, it means, ‘You have no pants on.’ But we use it to describe someone who is brutally honest and fearless. What you see is what you get. That’s our Rita.”

Time has done nothing to stop Moreno, who recently delved back into children’s television, playing the voice of the main character’s grandmother on Sprout Network’s Nina’s World, which launched in 2015; began a solo recording career in 2000 with the release of a self-titled album and, later, Una Vez Mas; and is currently in production on the Latino remake of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom One Day at a Time

Moreno is no stranger to recognition. She has been bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award. Today, we add Berklee to that illustrious list. For her versatility, pioneering spirit, and influence on Latino artists, we are pleased to present Rita Moreno with an honorary doctorate of music.