Berklee Honors Three Outstanding Artists at Alumni Achievement Awards

Natalie Toro, Gustavo Borner, and Mark Kelley were recognized for their achievements in musical theater, scoring and production, and performance.

April 5, 2024

Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory at Berklee recognized three decorated graduates—Natalie Toro BFA ’86, Gustavo Borner BM ’89, and Mark Kelley BM ’03—at the annual Alumni Achievement Awards on Thursday, April 4, at View Boston in the Prudential Center.  

Toro made history in her Broadway debut, becoming the first American to play the role of Eponine in a production of Les Misérables. The Boston Conservatory alumna has originated several acclaimed roles, including Sally in the Broadway production of Alan Menken’s A Christmas Carol and Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities, for which she won Sarasota Magazine’s Best Supporting Actress Award in its pre-Broadway run. Her national touring company credits include Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Grizabella in Cats, and Camila in the first national tour of In the Heights. The Bronx native has also been a soloist with symphony orchestras and at Carnegie Hall and the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland.

“One thing I took away from my time at school is work ethic, and to me it’s the most important thing,” said Toro. She gave special acknowledgement to Professor Fran Charnas, to whom Toro said she owes her career. “Fran taught me how to be true to myself, and if anything helped me in my career [it] was [to] ‘find who you are, find your truth, and stay with your truth.'"

Borner has been producing albums and scoring soundtracks since 1985. His passion brought him from Buenos Aires to Berklee and finally to Los Angeles, where he quickly became a sought-after engineer, mixer, and producer. He has worked on albums with Lalo Schifrin, Phil Collins, Santana, Juanes, and Plácido Domingo, to name a few, and has collected 14 Latin Grammys and six Grammy Awards. His live and broadcast projects include Latin MTV Unplugged, the Latin Grammy Awards, and Cirque du Soleil. Borner’s impressive film score résumé includes Deadpool 2, the Rush Hour franchise, and all three Guardians of the Galaxy films, and his work can be heard in bestselling video game series such as God of War and Fallout.

“We have a studio in LA [where] we have 25 crew members from Berklee, and I keep learning from them,” said Borner, reflecting on his connections to Berklee and the next generation of artists. “When I got my second internship, a Berklee alumnus was working there . . . and I came back to that [sense] of community. That’s why I keep bringing people from Berklee to work with me. I try to be a part of that.”

Kelley is best known as the bassist for Grammy-winning band the Roots, a gig he landed after filling in for Questlove’s band Mo’ Meta Blues. Growing up in a musical family, Kelley played cello and guitar but eventually settled on bass at age 13. After earning a scholarship and graduating from Berklee, he spent two years touring with John Scofield’s Überjam. Later on, Kelley would meet Meshell Ndegeocello, leading to six years of road work with the singer-songwriter and rapper. Kelley also backed Michael McDonald and Sara Bareilles at the fourth annual Roots Picnic just before being offered the full-time role with the Roots in 2011.

“The community that I had here at Berklee propelled me to where I am,” said Kelley. “I urge [students] not to overlook anybody that’s around you. You guys are the future; you guys are the music industry of tomorrow. Always be good to those people because they’ll be good to you—that is where you’ll build your community.”

Natalie Toro speaks during panel with fellow honorees Mark Kelley and Gustavo Borner

L-R: Mark Kelley BM ’03, Natalie Toro BFA ’86, and Gustavo Borner ’89

Mike Spencer

The honorees joined Berklee's interim president and provost, David Bogen, who led a conversation that touched on the bonds they formed at Berklee, their paths as professional artists, and the lessons they carried with them throughout their careers. Berklee’s renowned a cappella group Pitch Slapped capped off the ceremony by performing a medley paying tribute to the works of each honoree.

Toro and Borner will remain in Boston for Berklee's Career Jam 2024 on Friday, April 5, where they will participate in various professional development seminars. Borner will spend an extra week engaging with music production and engineering students and faculty.