School Spotlight: A timeline of the Thornton School of Music

1880 — On Sept. 14, 1880, USC established its very first structure, later known as Widney Hall. The building originally accommodated USC’s School of Music. 

1884 — The USC School of Music was founded, making it the first professional school at the University. Of USC’s first 100 graduates, music students made up around half of the population.

1920s — The Department of Musical Organizations, under the leadership of Harold William Roberts, took over the Trojan Marching Band, campus glee clubs and other musical troupes.

1922 — Thornton faculty and alumni performed at The Hollywood Bowl, where the Los Angeles Philharmonic also performs. 

1934 — Arnold Schoenberg, a famous Austrian music theorist and composer, moved to Hollywood and taught a composition class in Mudd Philosophy Hall. He was known for his unorthodox way of teaching musical harmony. 

1946 — KUSC, USC’s flagship radio station, began broadcasting and highlighting Thornton student performances. KUSC eventually became one of the largest broadcasters of classical music in the nation. 

1947 — The Carrie Jacobs Bond scholarship was established. Carrie Jacobs Bond, a Thornton alumna, was the first woman to establish a music publishing firm in the United States. 

1948 — The Los Angeles Opera was founded, and USC alumna Marilyn Horne made her debut at Shrine Auditorium under the conducting of Carl Ebert.

1953 — Marilyn Horne, a famed mezzo-soprano, began her career at USC. In Thornton, she studied voice with USC professors William Vennard and Gwendolyn Koldofsky and participated in German soprano Lotte Lehman’s master classes. In 1954, she played the voice of Dorothy Dandridge from the movie Carmen Jones.

1960s — String performers William Primrose, Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky taught master classes at USC. 

1964 — The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion opened. At American composer Steve Reich’s birthday tribute, the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed, featuring USC staff member Jascha Heifetz as a soloist. 

1974 — The Gregor Piatigorsky Chair in Violoncello was established, honoring the famed Russian cellist, who taught at USC from 1962 until his death. Other notable holders of this Chair have included USC professors Lynn Harrell, Ronald Leonard and Eleonore Schoenfeld. 

1979 — The USC Trojan Marching Band became the largest number of musicians to ever perform on a single in the recording of “Tusk” with Fleetwood Mac. 

1984 — LA hosted the Olympics, and composer John Williams, a Thornton collaborator and alumnus, won a GRAMMY for “Olympic Fanfare and Theme.”

1999 — Flora L. Thornton donated $25 million to the USC School of Music. This gift was the largest contribution to an American music school at the time.

2003 — Walt Disney Concert Hall opened, which now hosts the L.A. Master Chorale, led by Thornton alumnus Grant Gershon. 

2004 — Famous violinist Midori Goto joined the USC Thornton faculty. 

2004 — Four USC students won a GRAMMY for their group the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, which they established in the 1980s. 

2007 — USC alumnus and Distinguished Professor of Composition Morten Lauridsen was awarded the National Medal of the Arts for his compositions of outstanding choral works. 

2008 — USC Thornton established the popular music performance major, a first of its kind at a top-tier university. The major combines courses on musical training, production, technology and entertainment law. 

2009 — USC Thornton celebrated its 125th anniversary with performances including the USC Thornton Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, USC Thornton Choral artists and The Steve Miller Band. 

2012 — Alice Schoenfeld, a professor of violin, donated $3 million toward a new symphonic hall for Thornton, now known as the Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld Symphonic Hall. 

2013 — The Hollywood Reporter listed USC Thornton School of Music as a top music school in America and a “springboard to the industry.” 

2013 — Glenn Dicterow, who had the longest tenure out of any other former concertmaster, stepped down from the New York Philharmonic to become the Robert Mann Chair in Strings and Chamber Music. Robert Mann, a Juilliard alumni, was a famous violinist and founder of the Juilliard String Quartet. 

2013-2014 — Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton joined the USC Thornton staff as an artist-in-residence. Keaton is a Grammy-nominated DJ and a music producer who has worked with rapper Jay-Z. 

2013 — In September 2013, USC Thornton students performed in Bovard Auditorium with Elton John. 

2014 — Michael Tilson Thomas was named a Judge Widney professor of music at USC. This honor allows Thornton students to work directly with Thomas, one of America’s most famous classical musicians and a two-time alumnus of Thornton, himself.

2014 — The GRAMMY Museum named the USC Thornton School of Music as its first official university affiliate. 

2019 — In honor of USC student Victor McElhaney, who was killed in an off-campus shooting, the USC Black Alumni Association established a scholarship to support and encourage success for black music students at Thornton. McElhaney was also honored with a posthumous degree.