Meet Scotland’s new doctor of music

Meet Scotland’s new doctor of music


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2015

susan boyle1

It’s Dr Susan Boyle.

‘This is an atrocity,’ comments one eminent opera singer.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has published a list of her academic merits:

  • Over 680 million YouTube views of BGT Audition Clip
  • Over 22 million albums sold globally
  • Six albums released in five years making Susan the most successful act to come from a reality TV show signed to Syco.
  • Over 120 platinum & gold albums in 38 countries
  • 2 Grammy nominations
  • 3 Guinness World Records
  • 66 million Wikipedia views in one week setting a new record
  • Most pre-ordered album in Amazon history
  • Fastest selling debut album globally (2009)
  • In 2010 Susan became the first female artist to have a number one album simultaneously in both the UK and the US, twice in less than 12 months
  • In 2011 Susan made UK music history again by becoming the first female artist ever to have three successive albums debut at No.1 in the UK album chart in less than two years. No other female solo singer in the 65 year history of the Official UK charts has achieved this in the first week of the albums being released
  • In 2013 Susan became the first British artist to have been given the honour of the duet with Elvis posthumously and featuring his vocals on their album. Only two other females have been afforded this, Celine Dion (Canadian) and Lisa Marie Presley (USA)
  • Performed on some of the biggest TV shows in the world, including Oprah, America’s Got Talent, X Factor, Dancing With the Stars, The Today Show, Larry King Live, the Queen’s jubilee, the Papal Mass in Scotland (over 1 billion global audience) China’s Got Talent (half a billion audience)


  • Nick says:

    That Ms Boyle does what she does extremely well and that she appeals to a huge number of followers worldwide is self-evident. That she is awarded a doctorate in music for her popularity and appearing on Larry King Live – and these are the only reasons evident in the citation – is appalling! Does anyone seriously believe these reflect academic merit? The governors of the Conservatoire clearly know little about true distinction in music!

    • Gerhard says:

      A doctorate is supposed to reflect academic merit. A doctorate honoris causa is an entirely different thing, and has rarely anything to do with academic achievements at all. There is also no pretense that it would be the same. It is simply an honouring by a university, more often than not just for the sake of public attention.

      • V.Lind says:

        Absolutely correct. And this debate was held when the honorary doctorate was announced. Why this sarky presentation of the news of the deed? She joins other popular figures like Billy Connolly and Annie Lennox in being honoured. It is just a happy occasion sort of honour.

        A lot of people think Susan Boyle has done a lot of good, bringing pleasure to many since her unlikely catapult to fame. She has certainly done no harm. She does not pretend to be an opera singer, which might in some eyes (those of Mr. Lebrecht when cast upon Katherine Jenkins come to mind) do some harm; she is an entertainer and that’s it. And she has both studied at the RCS and taken some if its students on her tours, giving them some performance experience and probably some fun, so there is an association with the institution. In any event it is their call. It is NOT an academic distinction, nor does it pretend to be, and there is no outside examiner. It is entirely the call of the RCS. So Mr. Lebrecht’s list of her various achievements as “academic merits” is just mean-spirited.

        As for eminent opera singers with nasty mouths who decline to be identified, I don’t know what is shoddier — her comment or the anonymous repetition of it by someone who considers himself a journalist.

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    >>‘This is an atrocity,’

    No it’s not. Come on, she gives a bit of colour to stuffy academic proceedings

  • Stweart says:

    We live in a DUMBing down society .
    There is not naturally any connection between popularity and quality
    Just switch on the TV !

  • Angela Rodion says:

    I’m sure Dr Boyle will be Dame Susan before very much longer. Remember, as Mr Lebrecht is won’t to say: “You heard it here first.” Haha.

  • Angela Rodion says:

    Wretched autocorrect. “Wont to say” was what I typed.

    • CDH says:

      The constant ignorance of auto-correct, which was, after all, “input” by some human agency, is one of the most emblematic symbols of dumbing down.

      But as for a forthcoming Damery, I can’t see, judging by others in these ranks, that Ms. (or should that be Doctor?) Boyle is less qualified than many other entertainers, sports people, etc. It’s not all Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in the Honours Lists. It’s Bob Geldof too.

      • Nick says:

        Comparing Ms Boyle to Bob Geldof KBE is apples to oranges! Geldof’s work for charity has raised In excess of £150 million and that is the reason for his honorary knighthood. Ms Boyle has raised millions of pounds – err, has earned millions of pounds. Good on her! But she is not known, as far as I am aware, for her contributions to worthy charitable causes – apart perhaps from flipping pancakes at a church event and smallish amounts to other causes.

      • Angela Rodion says:

        @CDH, the knighthood for another Scot, Sir David McVicar, was a puzzlement to me, and I know I’m not alone.

        • CDH says:

          Seems a reasonable “K” to me. He is an interesting artist. And for the anti-SB crowd (to which I do not belong) it’s high art. Got a problem with him personally?

          • Angela Rodion says:

            No. I just think his productions are dreary. There are number of British directors, including a Scot who deserve a K but haven’t received one.

  • Christy says:

    These are honorary degrees from a college that teaches far more than classical vocal performance. You don’t have to search far to read that Boyle has done significant work to help publicize and promote the College. She has brought their students on tour with her and reportedly pays well. She takes classes there in the musical theater department – which is large. She is their biggest and most enthusiastic supporter.

    I sometimes wonder if classical purists would rather nobody knew about classical organizations. It seems that every time one of them, or a classical singer themselves, reaches across the line in an atmosphere when many are trying to force classical out completely, classical purists scream and winge and insult.

    Instead, wouldn’t it be better to welcome Boyle’s assistance, celebrate her embrace of the College and wish her and them well? Or is her receiving an HONORARY degree somehow destroying classical music? If something like this could actually do that, I’d say the problem isn’t with Susan Boyle.

  • Douglas Knehans says:

    outrageous and cynical. What a disincentive to serious students of music: you don’t have to study insanely hard like EVERY OTHER great musician… Just sing in the shower and harbor a dream for decades and, bingo, you’re a PhD in music. Laughable.

    • V.Lind says:

      Don’t be such a bloody snob. She has a lot of talent that went undeveloped, presumably due to her circumstances, which seemed rather modest when she came on the scene. That talent reached a lot of people — get over it, there are people in this world with interests outside classical music. It would appear that, in her 50s, she has taken lessons at the RCS — her opportunity has come, but despite all the sellouts and the record sales she seems to realise that she can improve and take help to cultivate her talent to whatever level she can — an continue to be an entertainer. For an untrained voice she still had a lot of natural ability. But she does not seem to have been content to sit and count the money.

      Give a thought as to what might have come of that voice had she been raised in an environment where the proper study of music had been a possibility. It is possible her people could not afford training for her, or had little awareness of such worlds — I don’t know, I have not read her life story. But it was clear that she came from a small life, and she has built a big one — and despite not being good-looking or sexy or whatever other rubbish gets people success today in all too many circles. She does work for her success, and I think a lot of people might find that inspirational.

  • Paul Kelly says:

    Yes to all that, but is she any good?

    • Stereo says:

      No. Obviously in Scotland a doctorate of music doesn’t mean you have to to have any musical talent!

  • Dr. Roy Lisker says:

    Way to go, Susan!!

  • T. Manor says:

    What’s the big deal? Honorary Doctorates are publicity tchotchkes that are worth about as much as the paper they’re printed on.

    • George King says:

      Indeed, and similar to many (but not all) of those selected for the Queen’s Honours list. In the US many universities award honorary doctorates to generous donors, and for no other good reason.

  • robcat2075 says:

    Hooray for Susan!

    She’s a real performer.

    All this griping over the fleeting attention brought by an honorary degree? It’s unseemly and reflects poorly on the classical music world.

    To anyone from the real world reading the angry commenters above… they are sore losers with careers in such a state that they have lots of free time to complain on the internet about pop stars.

  • Stereo says:

    Along with Nicola Sturgeon no doubt!