Kenny Chesney, Photo Courtesy of Twitter
Kenny Chesney, Photo Courtesy of Twitter

Kenny Chesney Earns Honorary Doctorate At East Tennessee State University: “I Am Now A Doctor”

Kenny Chesney is now Dr. Chesney! The country music superstar visited his alma mater on Friday (Oct. 21), where he was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Chesney, a 1990 graduate from East Tennessee State University, received the honorary degree as part of the 40th-anniversary celebration of the college’s Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots music studies program. ETSU President Noland and Provost Kimberly McCorkle were on hand to present him with the honor, labeling Chesney “a paradigm-shifting artist who helped define country music in the 21st Century.”

While accepting the honor, Chesney graciously reflected on his college years in Johnson City, Tenn., and remembered the early gigs he played before becoming one of the biggest stars in country music.

“To say I wouldn’t dream this is an understatement,” the four-time CMA and four-time ACM Entertainer of the Year told those in attendance. “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,” he added. “But that’s why no matter what you dream, you have to just keep dreaming and believing.”

Following his speech, Chesney took to social media with a photo from the special event, sharing his gratitude to those who recognized him for his ongoing commitment to music.

“I am now a Doctor. Last night was so special. I would like to thank Dr. Brian Noland, Dr. Jack Tottle, the Board of Trustees, and the faculty and staff at East Tennessee State University for giving me an Honorary Doctorate. It felt so great to be back,” he tweeted.

Chesney wasn’t the only person to receive an honorary doctorate degree during the musical studies programs anniversary celebration. Chesney’s surprise appearance in Jackson, Tenn., saw him returning the favor to Dr. Tottle, who founded the ETSU program in 1982.

In presenting the honor, the 54-year-old singer, a former member of the program and the ETSU Bluegrass Band, noted how Tottle played an instrumental role in his musical education and recalled how his mentor encouraged him to chase his dreams of becoming a country music star.

“Jack Tottle taught me how to dream, or inspired me to have the ability to dream enough to believe I could do this,” Chesney said of the renowned program creator, who – according to a press release is “considered a global expert on bluegrass and roots music, as well as an accomplished musician.” “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,” Chesney said. “He welcomed me, taught me a lot about songs, being in bands, and what this music is made of. He took a bunch of us kids – several went on to play with Alison Krauss and Union Station – to Russia as part of cultural exchange, teaching us how music builds a bridge to places you can’t imagine. So, 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.”

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