Berklee School logoThe Berklee School of Music awarded its first Bachelor of Music degrees to a graduating class on May 28, 1966. It was another sign that Lawrence Berk’s little music school had become a major player in music education.

In 1963, the Berklee School of Music announced the formation of its degree program, and that students entering that fall could opt for a bachelor of music degree in addition to the professional diploma program already in place. Berklee would offer degrees in music education, composition, and performance.

In 1966, the first graduating class assembled at the New England Life Hall on May 28 for Berklee’s first commencement exercises. Sixteen students were granted bachelor’s degrees, thirteen in music education and three in composition. The commencement address was delivered by Roland Nadeau, author and chairman of the Music Department at Northeastern University. A concert bash followed the graduation ceremony—would we expect anything less?—with the Berklee Trombone Ensemble led by Phil Wilson, and William Maloof’s student concert orchestra.

It would be seven more years before Berklee was fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The school changed its name to the Berklee College of Music in 1973.

Nineteen sixty-six was actually a big year for the Berklee School, marked by significant institutional growth. Berklee established its first Board of Trustees, with Gregory Larkin the first chair. Other board members included Willis Conover of the Voice of America, and Father Norman O’Connor, the jazz priest.

It was the year the school opened its building at 1140 Boylston Street, the former Hotel Bostonian. A total renovation transformed the building. Former hotel rooms became dormitory space, the bookstore was in the basement, the library was on the sixth floor, and an electronic keyboard lab, with 24 Fender Rhodes pianos, was on three. The recital hall, on the first floor, absorbed the space that had once been the hotel’s nightclub, the Jewel Room, where Charlie Mariano, Herb Pomeroy, and Ray Santisi had played bop 15 years before.

Saxophonist Andy McGhee joined the faculty in 1966. A 1949 graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, McGhee was one of Jimmie Martin’s Beboppers as a student, and after a hitch in the army, spent five years with Fat Man Robinson’s Boston jump band, then went on the road, going with  Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra in 1957 for six years, then with Woody Herman’s for three more. McGhee’s was another strong jazz voice on the already-impressive faculty.

Professor McGhee provides our musical selection today, letting out all the stops on “Cotton Tail,” during the 2006 Berklee Commencement Concert.