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Grammy Winning Bassist Christian McBride Named Commencement Speaker

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Virtuoso Jazz Musician to Address the First Graduating Class of SFCM Roots, Jazz, and American Music Students; McBride to Receive Honorary Doctorate in Person in 2022

May 19, 2021 by Tim Records

Seven-time Grammy Award-winning jazz bassist, composer, arranger, educator, curator, and administrator Christian McBride will deliver the commencement address at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s (SFCM) virtual graduation celebration on Saturday, May 29, 2021. It will include the first graduates of the Conservatory’s Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) program. McBride will also receive an honorary doctorate from the school, which will be conferred in person in 2022.

“Christian McBride is a phenomenal musician and humanitarian whose work has transformed the landscape of art and culture in the modern world. His collective output as a creator, performer, teacher, and change agent transcends all metrics of achievement within our profession. He has articulated the role of ‘artist-citizen’ at a level heretofore unimagined and has inspired all of us to be better at what we do,” said SFCM President David Stull. “It is a profound honor to welcome Christian as our commencement speaker and we look forward to awarding him the Doctorate of Music on campus next year.”

“Christian McBride has been the quintessential jazz bassist for close to 30 years now. His name and reputation are synonymous with virtuoso playing, incredible musicianship, and he is a champion of the Black American musical experience,” said Jason Hainsworth, executive director of RJAM, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion and special advisor to the president.

McBride is one of the most requested, recorded, and respected figures in music today.

Host of National Public Radio’s Jazz Night in America, the Philadelphia-born bassist moved to New York City in 1989 to study classical bass at the Juilliard School. Since then, he has worked with legends of music across all genres, including McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Natalie Cole, Sting, the Roots, D'Angelo, Queen Latifah, and Kathleen Battle, among many others.

For more than two decades, his Christian McBride Band has toured the world, recorded, and pushed creative boundaries together, earning the description of “one of the most intoxicating, least predictable bands on the scene today.”

In 1998, McBride composed The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons, a multi-part suite focused on four major figures of the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece was commissioned by the Portland (ME) Arts Society and the National Endowment for the Arts and performed throughout New England with McBride's quartet and a 30-piece gospel choir. A decade later, McBride rewrote and expanded the piece to include a gospel choir, an 18-piece big-band and four speakers; the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed the updated The Movement Revisited. The Los Angeles Times called the work “admirable—to paraphrase Dr. King—for both the content of its music and the character of its message.”

McBride has served as artistic director of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Summer Sessions, the co-director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and creative chair for jazz of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. He is currently artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival, artistic advisor for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center/James Moody Jazz Festival.

In line with SFCM’s mission to provide students a framework to succeed in music and in life, McBride is the creative director for Jazz House Kids, a preeminent arts education and performance organization founded by McBride’s wife, vocalist Melissa Walker. It pairs young learners with renowned jazz performers and professional staff to cultivate children’s musical potential, enhance their leadership skills and improve academic achievement -- outcomes described in a recent paper published by SFCM and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation demonstrating the measurable benefits of music on children’s development.

“I can't think of anyone better to represent what SFCM’s RJAM program strives to achieve than Christian,” said Hainsworth. “As SFCM’s first class of RJAM students graduate next week, it is truly an honor to have him be a part of this occasion.”

SFCM’s 2021 Commencement will take place at 6:00 p.m. PDT (9:00 a.m. Sunday Beijing CST) and can streamed live on the SFCM Vimeo channel.