Stevie Wonder and Misty Copeland

Image caption: Stevie Wonder and Misty Copeland

Credit: Courtesy Stevie Wonder; Photo by Masterclass (Misty Copeland)

Commencement 2024

Stevie Wonder and Misty Copeland to speak at Peabody Conservatory's 2024 graduation ceremonies

Both artists will also receive the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music and Dance in America

Two of the most recognizable performing artists of their times, and trailblazing advocates for access and inclusion in the arts, Stevie Wonder and Misty Copeland will deliver addresses for the Peabody Conservatory's 2024 Graduation ceremonies on Wednesday, May 22. Copeland, the first African American woman ever to become a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre's 75-year history, will address undergraduates at the morning ceremony; Wonder, one of the bestselling music artists of all time, will speak at the afternoon ceremony for graduate students.

Both will receive the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music and Dance in America, the highest honor bestowed by the Peabody Institute, presented annually since 1980. In addition, Johns Hopkins University will present an honorary doctorate to Stevie Wonder at its universitywide Commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 23.

"Stevie Wonder and Misty Copeland have dedicated their lives to making art and to lifting up others through music and dance, inspiring audiences and setting powerful examples for generations of younger performers."
Fred Bronstein
Dean, Peabody Conservatory

"Stevie Wonder and Misty Copeland have dedicated their lives to making art and to lifting up others through music and dance, inspiring audiences and setting powerful examples for generations of younger performers," noted Peabody Dean Fred Bronstein. "I cannot imagine two more fitting speakers to send our graduating student artists out into the world to make their own impact."

"Misty Copeland has broken new ground throughout her career, as the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, and as an inspiration to many through her remarkable talent as well as her courage in breaking barriers—making her the perfect choice as the first dancer to receive the Peabody Medal. She is that rare artist whose name transcends their discipline," Bronstein said. "By excelling as a Black woman in ballet, she has led change in the art form, and inspired countless younger dancers, performers, athletes, and audience members—in the process, elevating the power and relevance of dance as a medium for expression."

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in San Pedro, California, Misty Copeland began her ballet studies at the late age of 13. After studying at the San Francisco Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre's Summer Intensive, she joined American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in 2001, and in 2007 became the company's second African American female soloist and the first in two decades. In 2015, Copeland was the first African American woman to ever be promoted to principal dancer with the company. Performing a variety of classical and contemporary roles, one of her most important was the title role in Firebird, created on her in 2012 with new choreography by sought-after choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. She also made history as the first Black woman to perform the lead role of Odette/Odile in ABT's Swan Lake during the company's inaugural tour to Australia. In 2022, she launched The Misty Copeland Foundation, a nonprofit focused on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in ballet and pursuing social justice through arts activism, with an after-school program called BE BOLD that aims to make introductory ballet accessible and affordable. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Life in Motion, and a picture book titled Firebird. She has been honored with the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Arts, Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People, Glamour's Women of the Year, Black Girls Rock! Awards, and honorary doctorates from the University of Hartford and New York University, among other awards.

"By any measure, Stevie Wonder has been one of the most influential artists of his time, a remarkable artistic personality born of Motown but destined to exceed what even that juggernaut has meant to the world of music," noted Bronstein. "At the same time, he has been a leading voice in important social and civic causes, connecting his art with social justice to create a legacy of activism closely intertwined with his truly outsized impact in music."

A child prodigy who reached No. 1 on the charts when he was 13 years old, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer Stevie Wonder has won 25 Grammy Awards and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Kennedy Center Honors, and countless other honors. His long list of hit singles includes more than 30 U.S. top-ten hits and stretches from "Superstition" to "For Once in My Life" to "I Just Called to Say I Love You;" his star-powered collaborations from "Ebony and Ivory" (with Paul McCartney) to the AIDS charity single "That's What Friends are For" (with Dionne Warwick, Elton John, and Gladys Knight). Released in 1976, his Songs in the Key of Life was the first album by an American artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Synthesizing elements of pop, R&B, soul, jazz, funk, and gospel into his own signature and ever-evolving style, he was a pioneer in the use of electronic instruments and technologies that changed the sound of popular music. Wonder accepted his 1985 Academy Award for best original song in the name of Nelson Mandela, and his lyrics, appearances, and activism helped to advance civil rights in America and racial justice around the world; the song "Happy Birthday" propelled his successful campaigning to establish Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday. He has also been a longtime advocate for improving services for the blind and those with disabilities and was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2009.

Copeland and Wonder join a roster of previous George Peabody Medal winners that includes Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, Renée Fleming, Tori Amos, Leon Fleisher, Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Pete Seeger, Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Marilyn Horne, André Watts, Ella Fitzgerald, and Leonard Bernstein. Copeland will be the first dancer to receive the George Peabody Medal; the Peabody Institute's long history of dance training at the Preparatory level was extended to include a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance in 2018, an interdisciplinary and innovation-driven program that prepares students to lead as dancers, choreographers, and citizen artists.

This year marks the Peabody Conservatory's 142nd Graduation exercises, at which 94 Bachelor of Music degrees, nine Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, 131 Master of Music degrees, 11 Master of Arts degrees, 14 Graduate Performance Diplomas, three Artist Diplomas, and 17 Doctor of Musical Arts degrees are scheduled to be conferred.

The undergraduate ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 22, and a second ceremony for graduate degrees follows at 2 p.m. Copeland will speak at the morning ceremony and Wonder will speak at the afternoon event. Both ceremonies will take place in Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall on the Peabody Institute's Baltimore campus and will be available to view via livestream. In-person attendance is ticketed and reserved for graduates and their families and guests. Additional details are available at