2017 Commencement Speaker
Steven Van Zandt
Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts
Steven Van Zandt is a musician, performer, songwriter, arranger, music producer, music supervisor, TV producer, actor, director, Broadway producer, TV and film composer, live event producer, international disc jockey, activist, historian, teacher, and member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and is recognized internationally as one of the world’s foremost authorities on both contemporary and traditional rock and roll. Rutgers is proud to bestow upon Van Zandt an honorary doctor of fine arts degree.
After creating the “Jersey Shore” sound with the Asbury Jukes, he became a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and went on to become a successful solo artist in his own right recording and performing with his band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. He has just completed his first new album in over 15 years, Soulfire, returning to his rhythm and blues roots.
His songs have been performed by artists such as Jackson Browne, Pearl Jam, Jimmy Cliff, Damian Marley, Gary U.S. Bonds, Darlene Love, Nancy Sinatra, Brian Setzer, Black Uhuru, and more.
Van Zandt coproduced the seminal Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band albums The River and Born in the U.S.A. He has also produced albums for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Gary U.S. Bonds, Ronnie Spector, Demolition 23, Majek Fashek, and more. He recently arranged and produced Introducing Darlene Love, the critically acclaimed album for the legendary Darlene Love, star of the Oscar-winning documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom.
In 1985, Van Zandt formed Artists United Against Apartheid and wrote “Sun City,” a song featuring over 50 major recording artists protesting the apartheid system and considered as a contributing factor that led to the end of apartheid and the eventual release of Nelson Mandela. He was a performer at the “No Nukes” concert in New York City, the “Vietnam Veterans of America” concert, “LaBamba's Christmas Show for the Benefit of Missing Children,” which he also produced, “The Anti-Apartheid” concert in Central Park, “The Benefit for Passaic Fire Victims,” the Amnesty International “A Conspiracy of Hope” concerts, “Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute Concert” at Wembley Stadium, and many more. Van Zandt has twice been honored by the United Nations for his political activism, including the “Sun City” project and film and his involvement in International Peace Day along with Peter Gabriel. He also established the Solidarity Foundation to promote the sovereignty of indigenous peoples and to foster economic development in harmony with the earth.
Van Zandt costarred in all seven seasons of The Sopranos, playing principal character Silvio Dante, whom he created. He also starred in, cowrote, executive produced, provided the music supervision and scoring, and directed (the final episode) for the award-winning series Lilyhammer, which was the first original programming for Netflix.
In 2001, he launched Little Steven’s Underground Garage, his internationally syndicated radio show and one of the most successful syndicated rock music radio shows in the past 40 years. Van Zandt also created and continues to produce the first two channels of original content on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, the Underground Garage and Outlaw Country. In 2006, he launched his record label, Wicked Cool Records, to further support new rock and roll.
Van Zandt is chair of the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, a nonprofit that has developed a rock and roll history curriculum, TeachRock.org, an online educational resource offered free of charge to educators and individuals. Interdisciplinary in nature, it is geared toward middle and high school students but includes resources for learning at all levels and provides a simultaneous solution to two escalating problems, music classes being cut and a high school dropout epidemic.