Wadada Leo Smith and Don Cheadle to Receive Honorary Degrees From CalArts

Awards to be given out May 13

Wadada Leo Smith by Santa Istvan Csaba
Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in "Miles Ahead." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Steven Lavine, president of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), has announced that trumpeter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, improviser and educator Wadada Leo Smith and acclaimed actor and filmmaker Don Cheadle will receive honorary Doctor of Arts degrees at the Institute’s graduation ceremony on May 13.

The Pulitzer Prize-nominated Smith, 74, was the coordinator of African-American Improvisational Music within the Performer-Composer Program at CalArts from 1993 until 2014. Alumnus Cheadle, 51, is a current member of the CalArts Board of Trustees. He graduated from the Institute’s School of Theater in 1986. Most recently, Cheadle cowrote, directed, produced and starred in Miles Ahead, his homage to Miles Davis. Off-screen, Cheadle received a BET Humanitarian Award for the cause of the people of Darfur and Rwanda, and shares the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates’ Summit Peace Award with George Clooney for their work in Darfur.

Smith is, according to the New York Times, “a blazingly creative trumpeter and composer.” Released by ECM Records in March, his recent album with pianist Vijay Iyer, a cosmic rhythm with each stroke, was called “a frequently gorgeous, sometimes-roiling set that plays to both musicians’ strengths” by Pitchfork.

In 2015, Smith, a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), was awarded Composer of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA), and in 2013 he was named a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Music for Ten Freedom Summers. Available from Cuneiform Records, that four-CD set is “an expansive jazz work memorializing key moments in the struggle for civil rights in America,” a press release reads.