Gibson Brothers to Receive SUNY Honorary Degrees of Fine Arts at Spring 2015 Commencement
Renowned bluegrass musicians and SUNY Plattsburgh alumni Eric and Leigh Gibson, well known as the Gibson Brothers, will be honored at the college’s spring 2015 commencement Saturday, May 16, with honorary degrees of doctor of fine arts.
Older brother, Eric, earned a degree in English in 1993 and began a teaching career at AuSable Valley Central School in Clintonville, N.Y. Leigh earned two bachelor’s degrees from the college: the first in communication mass media in 1994, and the second in English in 1996.
They grew up on a farm in Ellenburg Depot in northern New York, emerging as bluegrass musicians in the late 1980s when they began as teenagers playing festivals and local venues like the Palmer Street Coffeehouse in Plattsburgh.
It was while Eric was teaching that life as a weekend musician took its toll. Taking a leave of absence from the district, he and Leigh, along with band member Mike Barber, devoted themselves full time to making bluegrass music their careers. It worked, and Eric never returned to teaching.
Recording contracts followed, and then, in 1998, the Gibson Brothers received their first IBMA nod, the Emerging Artist of the Year Award. That led to more honors, more recognition and, in October 2014, the Gibson Brothers played for the first time on the stage of the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn., alongside Garrison Keillor during “A Prairie Home Companion.” They have since returned, performing again in January 2015.
Both brothers were “humbled” by the honorary degrees.
“I’m so honored by the SUNY doctorate; I feel I owe a great deal to (SUNY Plattsburgh),” Leigh said. “My life was shaped by my time in Plattsburgh.” Indeed, he met his future wife, Alison ’96, while on campus.
But he also found his experience opened him to new experiences and a variety of personalities and cultures.
“I learned how to work with people who maybe didn’t share my opinions and to understand where they and their opinions came from,” he said.
Eric, who also met his future wife, Corina ’95, while at SUNY Plattsburgh, concurred.
“I loved SUNY Plattsburgh. Loved being here; loved every minute of it,” he said on a recent visit to campus. “I flourished here. It was like breathing fresh air and drinking fresh water — it sustained me,” he said.
“Plattsburgh allowed me to remain grounded in what I consider deep and honest roots,” Leigh said. “Though I couldn’t recognize it at the time, it was all I could ask for from an education.”
Some 900 SUNY Plattsburgh students will be eligible to graduate at commencement exercises this spring, which feature two separate ceremonies. The first, beginning at 9 a.m., will be held for students majoring in programs within the School of Education, Health and Human Services and the School of Business and Economics. The second ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. for students in the School of Arts and Sciences.