Heartfelt accolades, lush music and joyful toasts abounded at the USC Thornton School of Music’s 23rd annual Charles Dickens Dinner on Dec. 11 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
More than 375 guests, elegantly attired in black tie and ball gowns, attended the sold-out event, at which USC President Steven B. Sample and first lady Kathryn Sample and legendary opera singer Marilyn Horne were honored.
The event also marked the conclusion of USC Thornton’s 125th anniversary celebration and featured entertainment by 125 of the school’s stellar students.
Robert Cutietta, the dean of USC Thornton who served as master of ceremonies for the evening, cited the school as “a leader in our city, our state and our country.” Gayle and Edward Roski co-chaired the event.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was joined by his wife, Maria Shriver, presented the Samples with the prestigious John C. Argue Dickens Medals of Honor for their immeasurable contributions to USC and for helping to transform the school into one of the nation’s top research institutions during the nearly two decades Sample has served as the school’s president. This was the first official USC event to honor the couple since the president announced that he will retire in August 2010.
During his presentation, Schwarzenegger praised Sample as a gifted musician, outdoorsman, inventor, educator and administrator, and joked, “He’s been on the job 19 years. How great is it to have no term limits?”
Schwarzenegger also gave him high marks for building the school’s endowment from $450 million to nearly $4 billion and noted that since Sample became president in 1991, USC jumped from 51st to 26th in the annual U.S. News & World Report ranking of U.S. research universities.
Commenting about his own personal ties to USC, Schwarzenegger said, “My daughter is a sophomore at USC, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that she is at such an outstanding school.”
After the governor draped crystal medals over the Samples’ heads and announced that a scholarship in their names had been created at USC Thornton, the president, who described his job as a “calling,” graciously accepted the award on behalf of himself and his wife.
“This award is special because it comes from one of the best music schools in the country,” Sample said. “Over the years, Kathryn and I have probably attended 200 Thornton School concerts, recitals and performances. We always find ourselves moved and energized by our extraordinarily talented music students and faculty. They brighten up every event we’ve attended, lift our spirits.
“We’re delighted the Kathryn and Steven B. Sample scholarship will support and inspire outstanding musicians.”
The inaugural scholarship was presented to jazz drummer Jake Reed, a Kansas City native who is pursing a master’s degree in jazz studies. Reed performed a bouncy rendition of the jazz standard “Cute” with three other USC Thornton musicians. Sample, an avid drummer known as “Sticks Sample,” seemed particularly pleased that Reed received the scholarship.
Also honored at the gala was Grammy Award-winning opera star Horne BM ’53, a National Medal of Arts recipient described as “the Heifetz of singers,” who celebrated 26 years as a leading lady of the Metropolitan Opera and 39 seasons with the San Francisco Opera. She received the Thornton Legacy Award in recognition of her illustrious career and her commitment to fostering the next generation of musical artists.
An elaborate musical tribute to Horne was performed by members of the USC Thornton Opera Ensemble and the USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra, narrated by Elizabeth Hynes, chair of the vocal arts and opera department, and conducted by Brent McMunn, conductor/music director of the USC Thornton Opera.
Among the highlights was a performance by Korean-born baritone Joseph Kyungteak Lim, a second-year graduate certificate student in vocal performance who was named the Marilyn Horne Student Scholar, a prestigious award that was established at the school in 1984.
Horne, who pointed out that she came to USC in 1951 and turns 76 in January, declared, “Classical’s where it’s at. I’m putting my money on the baritone who sang tonight.”
Savoring the evening’s festivities, including caroling by singers costumed in period Dickens attire, she recalled that “Winter Wonderland,” one of the pieces they sang, “was my big hit when I was a year and a half old.”
Even though she has received some of the nation’s top honors during her career, Horne was touched by the award bestowed upon her by her alma mater. “I, from the bottom of my heart, thank you,” she said.
Capping the performance was “A Holiday Finale,” arranged by jazz pianist Patrice Rushen MM ’76, artist in residence for USC Thornton’s new popular music program.