On May 11, 2013, Willie Nelson earned an honorary doctor of music degree from Boston’s Berklee College of Music during the school’s commencement ceremony. Carole King and Annie Lennox also received honorary degrees alongside Nelson.
Upon finding out about the honor, Nelson “was going to ask them if I could write my own medication,” he joked to the Boston Globe. “Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.” Still, there’s no mistaking that the Berklee honor was rather prestigious: According to a press release from the school, recipients are “recognized for their achievements and influence in music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture.”
Appropriately, Berklee called on Nelson’s bandmate in the Highwaymen, Kris Kristofferson, to help give him his honorary doctorate. That decision also gave the men a chance to also perform together during an annual pre-commencement concert the night before (May 10); the pair did a duet on Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (on the Bayou),” while Nelson performed “Night Life.” Berklee students also performed two other Nelson tunes, “On the Road Again” and “Crazy.”
During his doctorate acceptance speech, Nelson commented on how much that concert meant to him: “Last night was especially tremendous,” he said. “I enjoyed hearing everyone play and sing so many great songs. The history of music is good, but the future is even better, thanks to you folks.”
Speaking to Berklee Groove, the school’s newspaper, Nelson also called it a “great honor” to be asked to speak to graduates — and expressed similar sentiments about playing his own music with students.
“And all I can tell ’em is don’t give up, keep doing it, and keep whatever you got in mind,” he said. “Yeah, whatever you see yourself being, go ahead and see yourself like that now. Fake it till you make it!”
Nelson, King and Lennox joined a spate of rather impressive previous Berklee honorary degree honorees, whose names span the genres of rock, pop, jazz and country. As far as the latter category goes, past degree recipients include Loretta Lynn, Bonnie Raitt and Alison Krauss.
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