Grammy winner Natalie Cole started and finished at UMass.
Grammy winner Natalie Cole started and finished at UMass.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Rock, pop, blues, jazz, and even punk music all have some surprising UMass connections, and yes, UMass has been represented at the Grammy Awards. More than once.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Natalie Cole? The daughter of the legendary Nat King Cole, and an acclaimed singer in her own right with nine Grammys, she started her education at UMass, briefly transferred to University of Southern California, then returned to get her degree in child psychology in 1972. Only a few years later she won her first Grammy for best female R&B vocal performance.

Another UMass Grammy winner is Buffy Sainte-Marie. Who? The theme song to the Richard Gere/Debra Winger movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” is Joe Cocker singing “Up Where We Belong,” which was written in part by Sainte-Marie, who got her bachelor’s degree from UMass in 1963 and PhD in 1983.

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You like your music a little harder? Jeff Penalty, former lead singer of the punk band Dead Kennedys, attended UMass. So did Kenny Aronoff, a drummer who has played with Bob Dylan, Elton John, Ray Charles, and the Rolling Stones, among many others.

But if jazz and blues are more your style, UMass has a trio of legends: Drummer Max Roach was recruited to the faculty in the early 1970s, pianist and composer Billy Taylor cofounded the school’s Jazz in July improvisation program, and guitarist Taj Mahal studied there.