Kenny Chesney Earns His Honorary Doctorate Degree From East Tennessee State University

by Blake Ells
(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for CMT)

That’s Dr. Kenny Chesney to you. The “Beer With My Friends” singer returned to his home in East Tennessee recently to accept an honorary doctorate degree from East Tennessee State University. He studied advertising at the Johnson City college years ago. He was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity while he was an undergrad. Chesney finished in 1990. When he finished he headed to Nashville. He performed at a lot of local clubs including the Bluebird Cafe. The rest is history,

Kenny Chesney returned to his alma mater to help honor Jack Tottle. Tottle founded the school’s Bluegrass, Old-Time and Roots Music Studies Program. The program led to the development of many of country and Americana’s most celebrated artists.

“Jack Tottle taught me how to dream,” Kenny Chesney said. “Or inspired me to have the ability to dream enough to believe I could do this. He showed me that music could make connections beyond what we see, that it could communicate beyond language or location. When I was just beginning to really get serious, Jack Tottle was 10 years into this incredible program that focused on the region’s musical roots. He welcomed me, taught me a lot about songs, being in bands and what this music is made of. It was my honor to honor Jack this way. He showed an East Tennessee kid the power of what music can do; and for me, it sure did.”

Kenny Chesney Accepts Honorary Doctorate at His Alma Mater

Kenny Chesney surprised the audience at the ceremony at East Tennessee State University. School president Brian Noland spoke about Kenny Chesney.

“He is a paradigm-shifting artist who helped define country music in the 21st century,” Noland said. “Selling out stadiums across the world. He is an inspiration reminding the world – through his art and the example he sets – to live life with joy, humor, passion and soul. Here at ETSU, we have issued a challenge to our faculty, staff and students to ‘go beyond.’ Mr. Chesney, soon-to-be Dr. Chesney, you exemplify that ideal. You have gone beyond genres, unifying people through your art and your work. You have gone beyond borders, sharing your amazing talent all over the world. And you have gone beyond yourself, using your voice to uplift others and give back to communities.”

Kenny Chesney was humbled by the experience.

“To say I wouldn’t dream this is an understatement,” he said. “I was spending most of my time at Chucky’s Trading Post, the Downhome, Quarterback’s BBQ and in the rooms at the music building practicing my guitar. All I wanted was to get a song on the radio, write some things I could be proud of and get out on the road and have some fun. My tour manager and a couple of my friends from back here are still out there with me, but I don’t think any of us would’ve seen this coming. But that’s no matter what you dream, you have to just keep dreaming and believing.”