2023 Honorary Degree Recipients

Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis portrait

Branford Marsalis is an award-winning saxophonist, band leader, featured classical soloist, and a composer for film, television and Broadway. He has won three Grammys and was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Best known for the influential Branford Marsalis Quartet, which he founded in 1986, Marsalis is also frequently sought as a featured soloist with classical orchestras around the world—and beloved for his innovative collaborations with Sting and the Grateful Dead.

Marsalis’s musical contributions have extended to theater, TV and film. His compositions for acclaimed Broadway revivals garnered Drama Desk Award and Tony nominations, and he received an Emmy nomination for his music for the History Channel documentary “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.” He also composed original music for Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which starred Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.

For the last 20 years, Marsalis has lived in Durham, where he has taught at North Carolina Central University and has had a long partnership with Duke Performances.

Deborah Rutter

Deborah Rutter portrait

President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Deborah Rutter is one of the leading voices in arts administration today. As leader of the national cultural center, Rutter oversees programming across all genres, as well as a global network of education initiatives. In 2019 Rutter opened the REACH — the first expansion of the center‘s campus designed to bring audiences into the artistic process — setting the stage for a dynamic era of growth. She has expanded programming to fully represent the diversity of art in America, and introduced social impact and wellness programs across communities. Rutter sits on the board of Vital Voices, is a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and served as co-chair of its Commission on the Arts. In recognition of her advocacy for the role art plays in diplomacy she was one of the inaugural recipients of the European Union’s Transatlantic Bridge Award in 2022.

Before her tenure at the Kennedy Center, Rutter held executive leadership roles with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, the Seattle Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Rutter is a graduate of Stanford University and holds an M.B.A. from the University of Southern California. Her daughter graduated from Duke in 2020.

Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon portrait

Widely recognized as a leader in the field of atmospheric science, Susan Solomon is the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her scientific papers have provided key data and theoretical understanding regarding ozone destruction. In the 1980s, she led research in Antarctica that resulted in some of the first measurements that pointed towards chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the cause of the ozone hole, and an Antarctic glacier was later named in her honor.

Solomon was one of the leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, together with former Vice President Al Gore.

Solomon’s many honors and awards include the National Medal of Science, the United States’ highest scientific honor. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Solomon was named one of the year’s 100 most influential people in TIME magazine in 2008.

Solomon earned her B.S. from the Illinois Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, both in chemistry.

Darren Walker

Darren Walker portrait

Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the U.S. with an endowment of $16 billion. An international organization focused on social justice, the Ford Foundation invests in civil rights, education, arts and culture, human rights, poverty reduction and urban development. Before joining the Ford Foundation, Walker was vice president at The Rockefeller Foundation. In the 1990s, as COO of the Abyssinian Development Corporation—Harlem’s largest community development organization—Walker led a comprehensive revitalization strategy, including building over 1,000 units of affordable housing.

Walker serves on the boards of the National Gallery of Art, Carnegie Hall, the High Line, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. He has been included on TIME’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and was named a 2020 Philanthropy Innovator by The Wall Street Journal.

A member of the first class of Head Start in 1965, Walker earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from The University of Texas at Austin.

For more information on this year’s honorary degree recipients, read the announcement on Duke Today.