Berklee Dedicates Jackson Browne Stage

Thanks to the generosity of donors, Berklee dedicated the performance stage in its 160 Massachusetts Avenue cafeteria in honor of singer-songwriter Jackson Browne.

August 11, 2016

Alumna Amy Allen ’15 and student Jake Ohlbaum performed an arrangement of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” on the newly dedicated Jackson Browne Stage in Berklee's 160 Massachusetts Avenue cafeteria while the singer-songwriter himself glowed in appreciation from a front-row seat in the audience.

The synergy of the moment was not lost on the crowd, which gathered on Thursday, August 4 for the stage dedication, made possible by a generous gift from donors Jim and Judy O’Brien, parents of alumnus Patrick O’Brien ’15.

“I can’t even imagine what it’s like to play a Jackson Browne song for Jackson Browne,” noted Ginny Fordham, senior director of major gifts and campaign planning at Berklee.

The naming of the stage was a fitting capstone to the ushering in of the new state-of-the-art, 16-story building, which, along with the performance venue, features practice and ensemble rooms, recording studios, and student housing. “When we had a vision of this new building, we said to our world-class, award-winning architect, ‘Instead of designing a cafeteria students could turn into a performance venue, design a performance venue that food service staff can turn into a cafeteria,” said Berklee President Roger H. Brown. “It’s an honor to be here today to celebrate the vision of the building itself but also an amazing artist and the people who have made it possible to name this place for Jackson.”

Of the O’Briens, Brown said, “They love what music does to effect change and make a difference in the world.”

An Inspirational Space

“I think forever more, Berklee students will be inspired by Jackson’s example,” Brown said. Along with his evocative music, which has been widely covered by artists such as Joan Baez, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tom Rush, and Linda Ronstadt, Brown praised Browne for “his advocacy for causes he cares about and believes in, not just when it’s convenient.”

The O’Briens were inspired by Browne’s volunteer work with the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center and moved to make a gift to Berklee in his honor. The center, for which Jim O’Brien chairs the board of directors, is a nonprofit providing arts instruction to underserved students in South Los Angeles and has paved a path for some young students to attend Berklee. Educator and musician Pullum, the center’s founder and director, was on hand for the dedication.

Jim O’Brien said the hope is that students will find inspiration on a stage named for Browne. “We hoped we could do something to inspire the next generation of artists who come out of this organization, and Jackson’s name was the first thing that came to mind. It’s a combination not only of his body of work and his songbook but his caring spirit and his advocacy for causes that he cares about. These are things we’d like to think the next generation of artists will also be inspired by,” he said. To Browne, he added, “Your name on this stage will inspire them to do the wonderful things you’ve done. We think of this as our version of a lifetime achievement award.”

Indeed, Browne said he considered the stage dedication on par with such an award. “It means all the world to me that in creating this space, they decided to give it my name. That is so touching.”

Browne went on to talk about how “Somebody’s Baby” was brought to him as a guitar riff but noted that the part he wrote can be arranged in many different ways, just as performers Allen and Ohlbaum demonstrated earlier. “That’s the part that I think is fitting—that you have my name on the stage where music is going to morph from one thing to the next.”

As if on cue, student vocalist/keyboardist Desmond Scaife Jr. led a group of vocalists in a gospel arrangement of Browne’s “Rock Me on the Water,” an apropos example of just the kind of inspiration that the Jackson Browne Stage is intended to foster.