Indiana native and award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds received an honorary doctoral degree from IU.
Around 300 people gathered Oct. 18 in the IU Auditorium to see Edmonds get his degree. Four Herald Trumpeters began the ceremony as trustees, President Michael McRobbie, Edmonds and more took the stage dressed in robes.
“Honorary degrees recognize people of great integrity, who have made profound and enduring contributions to their field,” Provost Lauren Robel said in her welcoming speech. “I really can think of no better recipient for this honor than Mr. Edmonds.”
Edmonds has received 11 Grammys for his work, as well as a three-year run as producer of the year. He has worked with artists such as Madonna, Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson. Edmonds said as a young man, he was generally very quiet because he wasn’t sure what to say or how to say it.
“I didn’t have a voice,” Edmonds said. “Music — throughout elementary school and junior high school, through high school — it’s what gave me a voice.”
McRobbie began the ceremony by briefly discussing Edmonds’ life, saying that his first concert was the Jackson 5 in sixth grade, and how Edmonds later went on to interview the band when he was in eighth grade by contacting the concert promoter and pretending to be his English teacher.
“Mr. Edmonds realized early on that in order to achieve his goals it would be important to closely study the practices and techniques of successful songwriters and musicians,” McRobbie said.
Of the four speeches that were given at the ceremony was Daryl Simmons, songwriter, musician, music producer and friend of Edmonds.
“When I was asked to speak today about my dear friend and songwriting partner Kenny Edmonds, it occurred to me that in the 47 years that I’ve known him, have been friends and have been working together, I had never been asked to do so,” Simmons said. “He’s never needed me or anyone, actually, to speak about him, because his music has spoken for him many, many times over.”
Following the speeches and welcomes given by McRobbie, Robel, Simmons and James Wimbush, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, Edmonds was escorted across the stage to receive his degree.
After emptying his pockets and handing someone his phone, gaining a laugh from the audience as he gave them a thumbs up, Edmonds made his way across the stage escorted by Wimbush.
Following the ceremony was a Q&A with Edmonds and James A. Strong, who said it was his idea to give Edmonds the honorary doctoral degree.
During the Q&A, Strong and Edmonds discussed topics from what the doctoral degree means to him to what it was like for him to learn to play a right-handed guitar as a left-handed man.
When asked about his work ethic, he said he doesn’t consider his job to be work.
He loves writing and creating, he said, and he loves the art of the music. He said he has to pinch himself sometimes when he thinks about the life that he has lived.
“I’ve met very important people in this world — I’ve met people that are like, uber rich, and I’ve met those that aren’t, and those from all walks of life,” Edmonds said. “Everybody has something to give me that I can learn from.”