Famed composer Legrand awarded WMU honorary degree

contact: Cara Barnes
| WMU News
Photo of Legrand receiving an honorary degree.

From left: Dr. Kathryn Hillenbrand, chair of WMU Honorary Degree Committee; Legrand; Ken Miller, chair of the WMU Board of Trustees; and Dunn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Famed French composer Michel Legrand, who has written the scores for more than 200 films and television shows, was awarded a Western Michigan University honorary degree during a ceremony at a private Kalamazoo home May 11.

In town to perform at the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, composer, conductor and pianist Legrand was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree approved earlier this year by the WMU Board of Trustees. The three-time Academy Award and five-time Grammy Award winner was lauded in a brief formal degree ceremony attended by about 80 community members and campus officials.

WMU President John M. Dunn read the formal degree citation, noting that Legrand's work over the years "bridged the musical styles of European classical, American jazz and popular music." The citation praised Legrand's artistic and scholarly achievements as significant, calling his body of work "an exceptional model of Western Michigan University ideals and aspirations for students, faculty and alumni."

Legrand told those attending the event that he was honored to be able to accept the award.

"You may call me 'Doctor' from now on," he said. "I'm extremely happy and I will try to go on with my life doing better than I have done so far."

Following the degree presentation, a short video was shown to Legrand and those attending. The piece carried congratulatory messages from such colleagues as Tony Bennett, Jerry Lewis, Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones, John Williams and others.

Michel Legrand

Legrand is best known for classic film scores for such motion pictures as "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Summer of '42" and "Umbrellas of Cherbourg," He won the first of his three Academy Awards in 1968, when "The Windmills of Your Mind" from "The Thomas Crown Affair" was lauded as best original song.

Born near Paris in 1932, he studied music at the Paris Conservatory from 1943 to 1950, graduating with top honors as both a composer and a pianist. He recorded his first album at age 22 and that album, "I Love Paris," became one of the best selling instrumental albums of all times.

He has performed with symphony orchestras around the world, and he has worked, as well, with such diverse musical stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Iggy Pop.

For Kalamazoo's famed Gilmore Festival this year, the Michel Legrand Trio performed twice May 8 in the festival's jazz club setting. Joining Legrand in those performances were two WMU faculty members—Tom Knific on bass and Keith Hall on drums.  Knific also was one of the participants in the May 11 honorary degree ceremony.

For the Festival Finale Saturday evening, May 14, in Chenery Auditorium, Legrand will join the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and Gilmore Artist Rafal Blechacz on stage. The evening will conclude with the world premiere of the newly-commissioned "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" by Legrand.

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