VIDEO: Boston Conservatory at Berklee Honors André De Shields and Mikhail Baryshnikov
In two virtual commencement celebrations earlier today, Boston Conservatory at Berklee Executive Director Cathy Young presented honorary doctorates to Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner André De Shields and dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov. In addition, Berklee President Roger H. Brown presented honorary doctorates to music icons Sheila E., John Legend, and Cassandra Wilson. All honorary degree recipients addressed the respective classes of 2020 in prerecorded videos. Berklee College of Music's class of 2020 consists of 1,188 students, representing 66 countries and 44 U.S. states, while Boston Conservatory at Berklee's class of 2020 consists of 257 students, representing 21 countries and 36 U.S. states.
Berklee's annual commencement concert, which was broadcast on YouTube the previous evening, featured some of Berklee College of Music's and Boston Conservatory at Berklee's most accomplished students paying tribute to this year's honorees by performing their music. Pieces performed included "Wait for Me" from De Shields's Tony-winning role in Hadestown, and a dance medley of Baryshnikov's most memorable pieces, such as La Bayadère, The Turning Point, and Don Quixote, among others. In a tribute to Sheila E., the artist joined students to perform "All Around" and "The Glamorous Life." Wilson also performed lead vocals for her song "Never Broken," backed by student performers as part of her tribute portion of the concert. A tribute to Legend closed the virtual concert, with the artist joining students on renditions of "Everyday People," "If You're Out There," and "Ordinary People."
Watch Boston Conservatory of Music's tribute to André De Shields:
De Shields, the acclaimed performer, director, and Emmy, Grammy, and Tony winner who has graced stages around the world for more than 50 years, also addressed the uncertainty of the moment in his message to the graduating class. He emphasized the need for artists and creativity at this moment. "As artists, you understand that, first and foremost, we must serve. This is what humanity needs: service." He imparted words of wisdom by telling graduates, "I believe if you know something, share something." De Shields, who began performing during the summer of love in a production of Hair, encouraged the students to build a new world of love and prosperity together, illustrating his message with lyrics from the musical. He closed his remarks with an a cappella rendition of "Believe in Yourself (Dorothy)," originally performed by De Shields in the 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz.
Watch honoree André De Shields' speech:
André De Shields is the triple-crown winner of the 2019 awards season, having won the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Tony awards for best featured actor in a musical for his critically acclaimed performance as Hermes in Hadestown. The Actors' Equity Foundation followed suit with the Richard Seff Award, honoring veteran stage actors' best supporting performances of the year. Prior to his Tony Award win, De Shields was best known for his show-stopping performances in four legendary Broadway productions: The Wiz, Ain't Misbehavin', Play On!, and The Full Monty. In a career spanning 50 years, he has distinguished himself as an unparalleled actor, director, and educator, receiving in 2018 the eighth annual Off-Broadway Alliance Legend Award and the 33rd annual Bob Harrington Life Achievement Bistro Award. Among his other accolades are the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival's Living Legend Award and a 2007 Village Voice Obie Award for sustained excellence of performance. In 2019, De Shields received the key to the city of his hometown, Baltimore, Maryland, from Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young; the inaugural Harlem Week Pride 50 Award; the Project1Voice Lifetime Achievement Award; the Joyce Warshow Lifetime Achievement Award from SAGE; the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre; and an induction into the American Theater Hall of Fame. De Shields is a proud member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA, and SDC.