MURFREESBORO — Legendary singer and songwriter Barry Gibb was honored Monday as the inaugural fellow of The Center for Popular Music at MTSU’s College of Mass Communication.
Gibb, a founding member of the pop-sensation Bee Gees, received the honor before speaking at MTSU’s Tucker Theatre for an event billed as his first lecture and performance combination.
The artist came to campus at the invitation of John Merchant, an assistant professor in MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry who toured with Gibb for years as part of his sound production team.
“Barry Gibb’s career has been characterized by its breadth, depth and consistently high quality, embracing shifts in popular music with intuitive ease — and emerging at the top of the charts in five different decades,” said Ken Paulson, dean of the college, who helped present the honor to Gibb.
“We are pleased to honor his singular achievements in popular music.”
The fellowship recognizes Gibb’s extraordinary accomplishments as a performer, songwriter and producer. He is cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most successful songwriter after Paul McCartney.
Gibb and his brothers have been topping the charts since the 1960s, becoming the only group in pop history to write, produce and record six straight No. 1 hits. The Bee Gees had 16 Grammy nominations and nine Grammy wins.
Gibb also has had No. 1 songs in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s 1990s and 2000s and is the only songwriter in history to write four successive U.S. No. 1 hits: The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” in 1978, replaced by youngest Gibb brother Andy’s single, “Love Is Thicker Than Water,” followed by the Bee Gees’ seven-week run for “Night Fever” and Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You.”
The Bee Gees’ and Elliman’s singles all originated with one of the top-selling albums of all time, the film soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever.”
Dr. Dale Cockrell, director of the Center for Popular Music, said Gibb’s honor is the first of its kind conferred by his organization.
“The Center for Popular Music has long provided special opportunities for the study of popular music and encouraged his appreciation and enjoyment,” Cockrell said. “With its Fellow program, it begins to recognize those who have made special contributions to its development.
“No one deserves this inaugural honor more than Barry Gibb, who has for five decades provided the soundtrack to American lives.”
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said Gibb’s honor also underscored the important work by the center, which was established in 1985 as a state-sponsored Center for Excellence with a mission to promote research in American vernacular music.
McPhee said the center works to “foster an understanding and appreciation of America’s diverse musical culture.”
“The Center for Popular Music is a premier, singular element of our university,” the president said. “Mr. Gibb’s record of accomplishment and body of work reflects the very best of what our center was established to study and preserve.”
Recording Industry Chair Beverly Keel said she was pleased that Gibb’s appearance at MTSU provided an opportunity for the center — and the entire university community — to connect with the legendary performer.
“We take pride in providing top-notch opportunities for our students to learn from the best,” Keel said. “Professor Merchant’s ties to Mr. Gibb allowed the university to benefit from one of the greatest musical talents in popular music.”