Not only is it a Boston jewel, but it’s the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world. It’s hard to think of the excellence of Boston music without thinking of Berklee. It started as the Berklee School of Music in 1945 and acquired a reputation as a jazz mecca, but then became the Berklee College of Music in 1970 and has been expanding its curriculum ever since. It became the first college to offer a songwriting major in 1987 and now has classes in everything from rock, country and reggae, to African studies, hip hop, salsa and even bluegrass (Sarah Hull, a bluegrass phenomenon, was given a scholarship).
Berklee is supremely international — more than 80 countries are represented in its 4,200-plus student body — and it has a Berklee branch in Valencia, Spain. It also owns two important venues in Boston — the 1,200-capacity Berklee Performance Center which has booked national acts (Paul Simon and Steve Winwood among them) and the more intimate Cafe 939 which is run by students. Berklee also owns 21 buildings and has 13 recording studios. And it runs a wealth of online courses, including (for full disclosure) this writer’s “Rock History.” But the real story of Berklee is the quality of the musicians it produces. Its artists have won 229 Grammy awards (and counting). Those who have spent at least one semester there include Melissa Etheridge, Quincy Jones, Bruce Hornsby, John Mayer, Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer of Aerosmith, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Juliana Hatfield, Aimee Mann, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Steve Smith of Journey, Gavin DeGraw, South Korean rapper PSY (of “Gangham Style” fame), Steve Vai, Billy Squier, Bill Frisell, Danilo Perez, Pat Metheny, Al DiMeola, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Paula Cole, Bruce Cockburn, Eliot Easton of the Cars … and, well, you get the picture.