Alumnus William Cepeda Earns Honorary Doctorate

Berklee presents one of its most acclaimed alumni with an honorary doctor of music degree.

April 3, 2013

During last month's Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival, iconic Puerto Rican musician and alumnus William Cepeda '85 not only electrified the crowd with his big band, he received a Berklee honorary doctorate in recognition of his long history of deep contributions and innovations in music. It might have been the first time a newly crowned Berklee honorary degree recipient played a set of tunes while still wearing the full doctor's gown.

The Grammy-nominated artist and composer received the degree from Berklee president Roger H. Brown while trustee and Berklee alumnus Luis Alvarez '83 joined them on stage.

"William is an amazing artist," said Brown. "He performed and played with Dizzy Gillespie and with Miriam Makeba before returning to Puerto Rico to invest deeply in that island's musical traditions. He created a style of music he calls Afro-Rican jazz and has composed, performed, and produced in this style for bands, ensembles, and orchestras. He is a quadruple threat: a player, composer, pioneer of a new style, and ethnomusicologist," added Brown, referring to Cepeda's comprehensive documentary on the four major styles of indigenous music in Puerto Rico: jíbaro, plena, bomba, and danza.

"In the 30 years that I have had the privilege of calling William my friend, I've celebrated his immense musical talent, but more importantly, his humanity, sensibility, and ability to bring peace to everyone around him," said Alvarez, who founded the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival.

Cepeda was a percussionist who took up trombone in his teens, studied at the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico, and then graduated from Berklee with a bachelor's degree and later pursued a master's. Visit the video section of Cepeda's website to delve into his music.