Long before the days of Judy Garland, Doris Day and Julie Andrews, Jeanette MacDonald graced the silver screen as the first superstar of the movie musical. A grant of $1 million from her husband’s trust preserves her legacy by establishing the Jeanette MacDonald Operetta Scholarship and Performance Fund at the USC Thornton School of Music.
Widely known as the soprano who sang with baritone Nelson Eddy in romantic comedies during the 1930s and ’40s, MacDonald also had a successful career performing on radio, television and stage. She appeared in more than 10 Broadway musicals, including Bubbling Over, Sunny Days and Angela. During the late 1920s and early ’30s, MacDonald starred in films alongside many of Hollywood’s most notable leading men, including Maurice Chevalier, Clark Gable, Ramon Novarro and Gene Raymond — whom she married in 1937. She died in 1965 after years of failing health.
In the early 1990s, Raymond began exploring ways in which to express his devotion to his wife and celebrate her musical legacy. He turned to his attorney, Bernard Newman, for advice.
“Mr. Raymond and I were looking for an institution that would promote Jeanette MacDonald’s kind of music — operetta and light opera,” said Newman. “I did some scouting and found out that USC — at that time, as it is now — was considered the ‘Juilliard of the West.’”
Newman and Raymond visited the USC Thornton School of Music and discussed the possibility of not only making a contribution to the school, but also sponsoring performances in Jeannette MacDonald’s memory. Although Raymond passed away in 1998 before final arrangements for a gift had been made, Newman remembered their discussions with the USC Thornton School and, together with Robert Thom, trustee of the Gene Raymond Trust, made a grant of $1 million to establish the performance fund.
The endowed fund will provide five or more scholarships to vocal arts performance majors selected on the basis of need as well as superior achievement or professional potential in the area of light opera/operetta. In addition, on a three-year rotating basis, the spendable earnings from the fund will sponsor the Jeanette MacDonald Operetta Recital, Workshop and Production.
“I am profoundly grateful to Bernard Newman and Robert Thom for making the USC Thornton School of Music the beneficiary of the Gene Raymond Trust and for establishing the Jeanette MacDonald Operetta Scholarship and Performance Fund at USC,” said dean Larry Livingston. “For decades, vocal performance at the school has been a strong point, and this new endowment will further enhance the excellence of this program.”