Renowned jazz musician to receive honorary degree in May

American jazz legend Dave Brubeck will receive an honorary degree from GW at the Commencement Ceremonies in May, University President Steven Knapp announced Monday afternoon.

Jessica McConnell/GW Media Relations
Jessica McConnell/GW Media Relations

Honorary degrees are given out annually at universities’ commencement ceremonies and are meant to honor individuals for their body of work in specific fields.

GW’s announcement comes one day after Brubeck received the Kennedy Center Honors from President Barack Obama – achievement awards for a person’s lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. It also comes one day after Brubeck’s 89th birthday.

Brubeck the founder of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, was selected by a University committee “that evaluated nominees based on the University’s ideals of achievement, leadership and service,” according to a GW news release.

“Dave Brubeck’s accomplishments as a pianist and composer are legendary,” Knapp said in the release. “Mr. Brubeck introduced jazz to generations of young people, and his extensive and outstanding musical achievements, for which he has already received numerous national and international awards, will be an inspiration to our graduating students.”

Brubeck is credited with bringing jazz to the mainstream by touring college campuses with the Quartet in the 1950s and ’60s. He had the first jazz album to sell more than a million copies.

At the ceremony last night, Obama said Brubeck’s music opened the world of jazz for him when the President’s father took him to a Brubeck concert in Hawaii.

“You can’t understand America without understanding jazz. And you can’t understand jazz, without understanding Dave Brubeck,” Barack said.

This will not be Brubeck’s first time at GW. In 2001, he was awarded GW President’s Medal – the University’s highest honor – and GW hosted the Brubeck Festival in April 2008.

Other individuals who were approved by the Board of Trustees in October are first lady Michelle Obama, former GW Trustee and CEO of Clark Enterprises, Inc. James ‘Jim’ Clark, former Secretary of Transportation William Coleman, co-founder of Intel Corp. Andrew Grove, and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus.

Last year, honorary degrees were given to commencement speaker and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the Director of Project Kaleidoscope Jeanne Narum, sculptor John Safer and President of South Korea Myung-bak Lee.

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