High Five: Music sensations with college educations

SEAN STROUD, Staff Writer

Who needs a degree when you’re famous? The idea of dropping everything once you blow up seems to be a patented part of the plan for rising stars. However, it’s always good to have a backup plan in case the new album flops. And more than just the education, it’s the people you meet and the things you experience while at college that make all the difference. 

Here are five musicians who made the most of their time spent on campus.


Freddie Mercury

Everybody’s favorite frontman, Freddie Mercury, studied graphic design and art at the Ealing Technical College and School of Art in London, England. Near the end of his time there he met members of the band Smile and soon replaced the lead singer, after which they renamed themselves Queen. Flaunting his studied craft, Mercury designed the band’s logo using the band members’ zodiac signs as inspiration.


Lionel Richie

Believe it or not, the legendary Lionel Richie has a Bachelor of Science in economics with a minor in accounting. Other than undoubtedly giving Richie a better perspective on the business side of music, Tuskegee University was also where he started branching out musically and joined a band called The Mystics as their saxophone player. The group ended up merging with another group, The Jays, and reorganized themselves under a new moniker: The Commodores. This new group would go on to open for the Jackson 5 and sign with Motown Records, providing Richie a platform to jumpstart his solo career.


Kenny Beats

Kenneth Blume III, better known by his stage name Kenny Beats, is one of the most prevalent producers in music today. He’s been keeping himself busy releasing projects with the likes of Denzel Curry and Rico Nasty and working with everyone from Freddie Gibbs to BENEE, all on top of dropping last year’s “Louie,” his solo debut. The Connecticut-born Blume grew up playing guitar, which eventually led to making beats to impress his friends. While still in high school, Blume started to help producer Alex Sanzo, which led to him becoming an intern at Cinematic Music Group. 

Despite his steady ingratiation into the hip-hop world, Blume left New York for Boston to enroll in the Berklee School of Music due to his mother’s influence. In an interview with Noah Callahan-Bever, Blume recounted the frustration of having to attend orientation knowing that A$AP Rocky was already rapping over his beats. However, he soon found the bright side of his situation: Not only did his new location allow him to network and meet other artists like Mac Miller and Schoolboy Q, as well as his partner in LOUDPVCK, Ryan Marks, but he was also learning to negotiate better contracts for himself at one of the most crucial points in his career. He also mentioned George Howard, a professor of his who’d sold a record label for millions in his youth. Later in the interview, he said, “learning from somebody who could actually show me what they’d done on paper meant more to me for some reason.”


Reba McEntire

On March 5, 1955, the queen of country, Reba McEntire, was born to a world champion steer roper and a schoolteacher. Her mother had once dreamed of being a country singer herself, so she encouraged her kids to sing at every turn and even organized the three of them into the Singing McEntires. Upon graduating high school, McEntire enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma State University to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher. Partway through her time at the university, her father encouraged her to sing the national anthem at the national finals rodeo. Her performance caught the attention of Red Steagall, who convinced McEntire to come lay down some tracks in Nashville. She went the following year over her spring break, and despite landing a recording contract near the end of that same year with Mercury Records, she continued pursuing her education and graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a minor in music.


Ice Cube

Before releasing the triple-platinum album “Straight Outta Compton,” ex-NWA member Ice Cube, or O’Shae Jackson, attended the Phoenix Institute of Technology for architectural drafting. The area of study certainly wasn’t his first choice, but he’d registered late and the only other class available was cooking. Nevertheless, Jackson didn’t just secure something to fall back on if music didn’t work out. He also learned an important lesson: Everything starts with a plan. In multiple interviews, Jackson has spoken about how this fundamental understanding helped him plan out his career and avoid the mistakes that go along with running into situations blindly.