Claude Kelly Talks Grammys, Business Adventures, and Berklee

The four-time Grammy-nominated songwriter advises students to find their community while at Berklee.

April 1, 2022

Berklee Now's Keyed In series features Berklee artists and experts making news and sounding off on the latest news and trends from the music world and beyond.

Claude Kelly

Claude Kelly B.M. '02

Image by Mike Spencer

Claude Kelly B.M. ’02 is always on the move. At any given time, he is juggling several projects. The singer, songwriter, and four-time Grammy Award nominee has written or cowritten hit songs for music industry giants including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, and Bruno Mars, just to name a few.

Even as his career continues to rise, the Berklee alum has never forgotten his roots. On March 31, he was one of six alumni honored at the annual Alumni Achievement Awards in Boston, and he was back on campus for this year’s Career Jam.

With the Grammys just days away, we caught up with Kelly to talk about what it’s like to be nominated for music’s highest honor, as well as what he’s currently working on. 

You have been nominated four times for a Grammy. Did anything change for you after you were nominated?

Learning that awards and charts were “nice” but not career-defining was an important lesson. There are people with many Grammys who are far from satisfied with the direction their careers have taken, but there are also many who have never won a Grammy and are having amazingly fulfilling careers. A great musician’s life is one in which you continue to be creative. The awards are fun but not the most important thing.

You have written songs for some of the biggest names in the business, yet it is hard to pinpoint your style. How would you describe it?

It took me a long time to find a phrase that describes my style. I’ve built a career on being a musical chameleon. Growing up in New York City exposed me to so many different genres and sounds. I’ve combined all my influences to create a sound l like to call “new American soul.” It’s a combo of all that I’ve learned from so many genres, countries, and world experiences. 

As an alum, you have made it a point to come back and give back. How was Berklee instrumental in making you into the artist you are today?

The most important gift Berklee gave me was the amazing circle of friends I’ve made—lifelong friends. We employ each other. We support each other’s careers, promote each other’s work, we write and perform together. We are there for each other in all aspects of life. Music is nothing without community, and Berklee helped me find my tribe. It’s been a priceless advantage.

If you were not already busy enough, you and your partner Chuck Harmony started the Weirdo Workshop. Tell us about the name and why you decided to do this?

Weirdo Workshop is a company name and a mantra. My business/music partner Chuck Harmony and I like to call ourselves “weirdos” as a fun term. It means that we accept our unique one-of-a-kind gifts—as quirky as they may be. Acceptance of yourself is key to being able to really find your own voice in this noisy world we live in. The workshop part means that we are imperfect, ever-growing people who are working on improving ourselves every day. It’s a company built on the idea that investing and believing in yourself is a beautiful path to a happy life as an artist. It’s the home of Louis York (our band) and our girl band, the Shindellas. Through Weirdo Workshop I’ve been able to stretch my gifts and work in all aspects of the arts.

The music industry is always evolving. What is the best advice you would give to a student who dreams of having your kind of success?

Best advice I can give is to be flexible and fluid about how the world changes. Technologies and rules will change, but music will always be needed, so just find ways to adjust to the “new normal.” Build and nurture relationships; they will save you. It’s actually a people business not a music business. Be kind, and be on time. That always goes a long way.