Renowned music scholar and musician Jason King has been named dean of the USC Thornton School of Music, effective July 1, the school announced recently.
King currently serves as chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He is the institute’s founding full-time faculty member, and he developed the program alongside Davis, the famed music impresario.
“Dr. Jason King’s talents — coupled with USC Thornton’s incredible students, faculty and staff — will be a dynamic formula to expand musical education at this exceptional 139-year-old school known for enriching the arts and humanity,” USC President Carol L. Folt said.
Elizabeth Graddy, USC’s interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, agreed. “We are excited that Dr. King will be able to leverage his strong network and interdisciplinary experience of performance, teaching, production, research and business acumen to benefit the Thornton School of Music community,” she said.
King’s musical interests and accomplishments span multiple genres, including classical, pop, R&B, gospel, jazz, rock and other styles.
As a scholar and public intellectual with a doctorate from NYU, King has created multidisciplinary work in the fields of African-American and African Diasporic cultural studies; performance studies, globalization and transnationalism studies; media and technology studies; music business, marketing and branding studies; and gender and queer studies.
An inaugural member of the Hip Hop Culture Council at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Black Genius Brain Trust, King serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Popular Music Studies. He brings a long history as a scholar and a journalist, and extensive experience working with internationally known media outlets on series, podcasts and documentaries.
“I think of myself as an institution builder: somebody who can identify an opportunity and build a structure and institution around that opportunity,” King said. “I see an opportunity with USC Thornton to take an already legendary school and help shape its 21st-century vision of what a music school can be.
“From all the meetings I had — with President Folt, with the students, with the staff, with the faculty — I felt an overwhelming sense of exuberance and commitment to excellence,” he added. “USC Thornton felt like a place of great love — a place that wasn’t just a school, but a place that people felt was a kind of home.”
The USC Thornton School provides students with a conservatory-style education that prepares them for careers as performers, composers, industry leaders and educators — often before they graduate.
King, who was born in Canada to Trinidadian immigrant parents, has been immersed in music for as long as he can remember.
“Not just my first musical memory, but my first memory of any kind is sitting on my father’s lap while he was playing calypso records,” he said. “My parents had an incredible record collection — which I plundered — that had everything from classical and jazz to popular music to world music.”
He went on to study classical piano and musical theater, but he knew he wanted to write, beginning his college career at Carleton University in Ottawa as a mass communications major.