Skip to Main Content

Wyclef Jean Goes Back to School - at UML

Grammy-winning star gives students class to remember

Pop star Wyclef Jean talks with Lowell High junior Brian Terrero. Photo by Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun
JAM SESSION: Pop star Wyclef Jean meets with UMass Lowell music students at the Thursday Recital Hour/Applied Seminar. Here, Lowell High junior Brian Terrero, 17, talks with Jean after the event.

Lowell Sun
By Rick Sobey

LOWELL -- "Where's my guitar?" three-time Grammy award winner Wyclef Jean asks on the Durgin Hall stage.

The pop superstar gets handed a guitar from the audience, invites a UMass Lowell student on stage, and they both plug in.

Wyclef, wearing sunglasses inside and sporting a Bob Marley sweatshirt, starts strumming.

"Somebody grab a bass," Wyclef says.

Another student joins, making the duo a trio.

"We need a drummer, man," Wyclef adds.

The quartet starts jamming.

"You gotta find that thing," he says amidst the noise. "It's really not about playing. It's about making people feel something."

The lyrics start. 

"If I was president, I'd get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, buried on Sunday," he sings.

A few people in the audience cheer, knowing the tune is Wyclef's hit song, "If I Was President."

Not a bad Thursday afternoon for the lucky UMass Lowell students. In addition to playing music, the songwriter and producer from Haiti heard students perform and offered them advice during the master class for music students.

"Always remember, quality music is gonna last forever," he told the students about the ever-changing music industry.

The solo artist and founder of the Fugees has been looking for up-and-coming vocalists and instrumentalists to contribute to his "Wyclef Goes Back to School" mixtape.

He was searching for collaborators at UMass Lowell. Scheduled to perform at The Wilbur in Boston Thursday night, he stopped by Lowell in the afternoon to evaluate students.

"We want to discover something we can use on a mixtape," he said.

Wyclef visited the university because his tour coordinator, Rachel Driscoll, graduated from UMass Lowell in 2017.

Driscoll sang during the class on Thursday.

"I'm so excited to be back here," she said. "I can't believe we were able to bring him here to talk with students."

As Wyclef listened to a few student groups perform songs, he bobbed his head and tapped his feet.

He gave positive feedback to each group, saying he wasn't Simon Cowell -- the judge on TV who is known for negative comments.

"Just keep rocking it and killing it," Wyclef told a group. "You dope."

Drummer Shane Alexander was in that student group, and he later joined Wyclef during the performance of "If I Was President."

When asked what it was like to share the stage with the Grammy winner, Alexander said, "Wow!"

"I never thought that would happen," he said.

Alexander praised Wyclef for his efforts bringing awareness to social-justice issues.

"He encourages and uplifts," Alexander said. "That's what the music industry really needs."

Andrew Nugent performed on his own, singing and playing acoustic guitar.

Wyclef called the student "incredible."

"I know (guitarist and singer) John Mayer," Wyclef told Nugent. "You got that thing, but you definitely got more swag than John Mayer."

"There's just something about when that dude (Nugent) went up, that no one could deny this mother is just fearless," Wyclef added.

Nugent was beside himself after class.

"Just surreal," the student said about Wyclef's comments. "It was pretty sick."

In 2006, as a co-writer, producer and performer, Wyclef was a driving force behind Shakira's massive hit "Hips Don't Lie," which climbed to No. 1 in 20 countries, including the U.S.

He has also collaborated with such legends as Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones and Earth, Wind & Fire.

"He's a true legend in the music industry," said Alan Williams, chair of the UMass Lowell Music Department, who also leads the university's music business program. UMass Lowell was the first public institution in the country to offer a music education degree.

"We're honored to have you here," Williams later told Wyclef. "This is a wonderful moment for us."

Williams presented Wyclef with a UMass Lowell River Hawks jersey. On the back reads "Wyclef" and the number 1.

Each group who performed on Thursday can submit a song online for Wyclef's mixtape.

Even if they don't make the cut for the mixtape, each group will get to open for the mixtape tour, according to Wyclef.

After class, Wyclef wasn't ready to leave for his show in Boston. 

Someone started a beat, and a freestyle rap broke out amongst students.

The students then handed it over to the legend.

"My momma change my life.

"She gave me a guitar.

"Now look at me today.

"I'm a ghetto superstar," Wyclef freestyled before shaking hands with the students -- a moment that will most likely top their college careers.