(JACKSON, Miss.) — Jackson State University alumna and iconic jazz musician Cassandra Wilson is set to receive an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston (not to be confused with UC Berkeley) in a virtual commencement ceremony on May 9.
The Mississippi native holds a mass communications degree from JSU.
Not only is Wilson being honored for her musicianship but also for her influential contributions as a vocalist, songwriter and producer. This year’s recipients include Sheila E., Andre De Shields, John Legend and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Wilson, known for incorporating blues, country and folk music into her work, has greatly expanded the jazz genre. In the 1980s, she became a founding member of the M-Base Collective after meeting saxophonist Steve Coleman in New York. Signing with Blue Note Records in 1992, Wilson released her landmark album “Blue Light ‘Til Dawn,” which helped pave the way for a new generation of jazz singers.
Among Wilson’s achievements, she has won two Grammy Awards, an Edison Jazz Award and a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail. She also performed on “Blood on the Fields” by Wynton Marsalis, which became the first jazz work to receive the Pulitzer Prize. In 2015, Wilson joined Legacy Recordings, a subsidiary of Sony Music, and her latest album, “Coming Forth by Day,” was released on the 100th anniversary of Billie Holiday’s birthday.
Wilson also launched the Really Cassandra Radio website and a section of the site, Secret Garden, is dedicated to listeners looking to access music from her published and unpublished catalog.
Past Berklee College honorees include Duke Ellington ’71, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones ‘51, Wang Leehom ‘99, Juan Luis Guerra ‘82, Missy Elliott, Esperanza Spalding B.M. ‘05, Rita Moreno, Justin Timberlake, and A. R. Rahman. Past recipients from the Conservatory include Sutton Foster, Leontyne Price, Betty Buckley, Debbie Allen, Nicholas Paleologos, Barbara Cook, Billy Porter, Victoria Livengood (M.M. ’85, voice), and Mary Rogers.