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Music

Ringo Starr receives honorary degree in Boston

The Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr visited Boston this week to receive his honorary degree from the Berklee College of Music.

The university originally announced that the drummer would receive a doctorate in music at the graduation ceremonies in May, but Starr was unable to attend then and instead addressed the graduating class in a recorded statement.

But yesterday, with Starr and his All Starr Band in town for a concert, the school held a special ceremony to honour his lifelong contributions to music and culture that featured performances of Starr’s hit songs, arranged and performed by Berklee students. The covers included ‘Photograph’ and ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ and ‘Not Enough Love in the World’.

The 81-year-old told the story of how he picked up drumming when he was taken ill at 13, and someone brought some percussion instruments to the hospital to keep him busy. He said he was hooked.

“I just wanted to be a drummer from that moment on,” he said.

“It’s a huge honour to have and accept this award,” reflected Starr. “In a way [my life] is like a dream fairytale. I wanted to be a drummer…it was my big dream, and my dream is still unfolding.”

In an impromptu moment during his speech, Starr sat at his drum kit to play a couple of standard patterns that he asks students to attempt in their first lesson. “If they can’t do that,” Starr said, “I politely hold them by the arm and say, ‘maybe piano is for you’.”

Berklee University President Erica Muhl then took to the stage for the official presentation of the degree. In her introduction, President Muhl praised the immortal legacy of Starr’s life in music and shared heartfelt statements from those closest to Starr, including Eagles guitarist and brother-in-law Joe Walsh and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney.

“Over the course of a career that has literally changed the direction of rock music multiple times, Ringo has been hailed as one of the most innovative, distinctly musical, and influential drummers in the world,” stated Muhl. “Ringo hasn’t just contributed to our modern concept of a rock & roll drummer; he is the original architect of the genre-busting foundations upon which so many legends now stand.”

Recognised as a pioneer of rock-n-roll drumming, Starr earned his honorary doctorate alongside Lalah Hathaway, Chuck Rainey, and James Newton Howard for his long-lasting impact on entertainment and culture and the countless communities he has inspired with his music.

Past recipients from the college include Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, B.B. King, Quincy Jones, Esperanza Spalding B.M., Justin Timberlake, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, and Gloria Estefan.