by: Johanna Kaiser
Some of the most respected names in music celebrated the next generation of singers, songwriters, performers, and producers Saturday at Berklee College of Music’s commencement ceremony.
Award-winning musicians Carole King, Willie Nelson, and Annie Lennox joined 6,000 students, friends and family members at Berklee’s commencement ceremony at Agganis Arena Saturday morning to receive honorary doctorates of music.
During her commencement address, Lennox, best known as a member of the duo Eurythmics and for her solo music career, looked back on her journey to becoming a famous singer-songwriter.
“I didn’t even know that such a thing was possible,” she said, recalling her parents paying for music lessons even when it was hard to make ends meet, her first instruments, and some of her first performances.
Lennox, who has won four Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, the American Music Awards Lifetime Achievement, Billboard’s Century Award, said she hoped her story would inspire the graduates and show them the “value of unorthodoxy.”
From The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, from Marvin Gaye to Aretha Franklin, Lennox recalled the musicians of the 1960s and 1970s that inspired her and to the delight of the more than 1,050 graduating students she even belted out lines from songs some of their songs—including on by fellow honoree King.
“I realized that I had to unlearn just about everything I had been taught about music and embrace the spectacular notion that I actually was a singer-songwriter and I was going to my own thing in my own way,” she said
Lennox, King, and Nelson for the joined students for a concert Friday night where students paid tribute the musicians and performed with Nelson and longtime collaborator Kris Kristofferson.
“The history of music has been good, but the future is even better thanks to you folks,” Nelson told the more than 1,050 graduating students—the largest graduating class in school history–after receiving his honorary degree.
Berklee president Roger H. Brown congratulated the students on their achievements, but urged them to use their success to benefit others.
“Not only did they excel in music, but they used their music to do something good in the world,” Brown said. “I hope you students will take note of that.”
King has worked with environmental groups to support forest wilderness preservation, and Nelson co-founded Farm Aid to assist American family farmers. Lennox is an ambassador for UNAIDS, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and the British Red Cross, and has worked to prevent gender-based violence and the spread of HIV around the world.
“So let us go and work and expand that spirit of creative and harmonious community far behind the confines of our small campus,” Brown said.
Lennox, who dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music in London and worked as a waitress before forming the Eurythmics with David Stewart, reminded the graduating students, who ranged in age 19 to 57, that they could go anywhere from here.
“Wherever you think you’re heading right now, you might turn out to take a completely different route down a completely different path,” she said. “And what looks like the end might actually be the start of a brand new beginning.”