UMass ranks among rockin’ colleges

By Sam Butterfield

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The sleepy west of the woody east apparently isn’t so quiet when it comes to generating great rock music. AOL’s Spinner.com named the University of Massachusetts the number 18 school for producing musically successful and influential alumni last week.

UMass clocked in ahead of Cornell and Toronto’s York University and behind such institutions as the University of Pennsylvania, Wesleyan University, McGill University, UC Berkeley, New York University and the number one choice, Thames Valley University in London.

UMass got the ranking for producing such notable artists as 1972 graduate Natalie Cole, blues singer-songwriter Taj Mahal (who attended the University while he was still Henry Saint Clair Fredericks), a 1963 alum, folk and country singer-songwriter Buffy Saint-Marie, a 1970 grad, and two members of the seminal alternative rock band Pixies, Frank Black and Joey Santiago.

The site lists a brief “pass” and “fail” feature about each school, detailing a positive note and a negative aspect about the universities it profiles. Spinner gave a pass to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, noting that “UMass boasts the tallest library in the U.S.,” but gave failing marks to the library’s late policy, quipping that Du Bois charges “two bucks a day for overdue books.”

The site also points out one funny anecdote about one of UMass’ famous alums. Spinner comments that Henry Saint Clair Fredericks (who became Taj Mahal) certainly had a different future in front of him while he resided in the Valley. Fredericks was a member of the Future Farmers of America and an animal science major while he attended the University.

Cole, a nine-time Grammy winner and the daughter of fabled singer Nat King Cole, attended the nearby Northfield Mount Hermon School in Northfield for high school, and then moved slightly south to enroll at UMass upon graduation. While at UMass, she majored in child psychology and minored in German. Just three years after graduating in 1972, Cole won her first Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “This Will Be” and took home a second prize for Best New Artist for Inseparable.

Saint-Marie graduated in 1970 with degrees in teaching and Oriental philosophy. She has become a highly renowned folk singer who has focused much of her writing on the struggle and plight of Native Americans, and emerged amid a spate of successful Canadian folk around the same time as Joni Mitchell, Lenoard Cohen and Neil Young. Coincidentally enough, her work has also been covered by Taj Mahal.

Black and Santiago attended the University in the mid-80s, and became close friends while they were roommates. After dropping out, the two moved to Boston and linked up with bassist Kim Deal and drummer David Lovering. They rose to prominence after Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain stated that the Pixies had been influential for him, and despite the fact that they have not recorded new music since 1991’s Trompe Le Monde, the group’s popularity has only grown in that interim. On their last album, they paid homage to their time in Amherst with the iconic “UMass.”

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]