By Alexis Clark

NASHVILLE, TN — Tennessee State University officials will award honorary degrees to two musical super stars at the university’s 110th spring graduate commencement on Friday, May 6. Dallas Austin and Sir Williams James Baptist, award-winning song writers, artists, and producers, will receive the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of their contributions to the arts.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin will be the commencement speaker to address the graduate students.

Dallas Austin, Grammy award-winning producer, is a 2019 inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has over 50 Billboard Hot 100 records to his credit and a multitude of awards. Austin also has produced a pair of successful movies based on his own experiences growing up in Georgia —the 2002 “Drumline” and 2006 “ATL.”   

Sir the Baptist is a multi-disciplinary Christian American artist, two-time Grammy award-nominated writer, producer, BET Award nominee and winner of BMI 2021 Songwriter of the Year. 

He called receiving an honorary degree his greatest accomplishment of all time.

“To know that TSU appreciates my hard work as far as my career and Dallas’ career, we’re overwhelmed,” Sir the Baptist said.  “I think it is amazing. You work your entire life, and you may not feel like you’re as collegiate as the students who earn it, so you don’t quite feel like you deserve it,” he said, noting how humble and appreciative he is for the opportunity.

Sir the Baptist said his mother, and Austins’ mother, are both proud of this milestone. “No matter what song we worked on, no matter how big it got, our parents wanted us to graduate.”

Austin landed his first placement with “Cover Girl” for Princess & Starbreeze in 1987. From “Unpretty” and “Cool” to “Mowtownphilly” and “FourFiveSeconds,” Austin went on to craft hits for the likes of Another Bad Creation, Boyz II Men, TLC, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, and most recently Cedric Gervais, Kodie Shane and Klondie Blonde.

“Regardless of what it is, I want to create things that resonate with people and bring positivity,” Austin said. “Creating music, film, and art is the best way for me to help others and really do some good.”

Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Frank Stevenson, who is also chair of the honorary degree committee, stated that having these two as honorees is a once in a lifetime opportunity for TSU. 

“Both are in the music industry with an amazing array of acclaims and accomplishments in that space.” Stevenson said.

The Director and Assistant Director of TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands (AOB) Reginald McDonald and Larry Jenkins, couldn’t agree more.

Jenkins stated that Sir the Baptist and Austin has been connecting with AOB this semester through the Artist and Residency Program to provide new outlets for the students regarding songwriting, publishing and networking.

McDonald and Jenkins both stated that the two award-winning artists are influential to the band and HBCU culture.

“I see their connection (with TSU) being a forever connection,” Jenkins said.

“I think this collaboration propels TSU into some new spaces. The sets of eyes that will be on TSU will be amazing.” McDonald stated that the two being awarded at the commencement, along with future networking opportunities will be monumental for TSU.

“It is almost like that next level of recognition,” McDonald said. “This is (a) huge, remarkable experience for our kids.”

The ceremony will take place in the Gentry Center Complex located on the main campus at 5 p.m., and will be livestreamed at 

The event will follow COVID-19 guidelines and face mask are recommended. Hand sanitizer and mask will be provided.