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Flora Laney Thornton, L.A.'s musical benefactor

October 10, 2009 | 10:30 am

Flora You've heard of the USC Thornton School of Music...

... the woman who gave the school her name in 1999, along with her $25 million, is Flora Laney Thornton. Now 94 and living in Holmby Hills, she began her professional life in music. Growing up in Kansas and then Texas, she was a soloist in her church choir before moving to New York, where she lived at the Three Arts Club and landed a role in a Broadway show. She was performing in the ensemble of a musical called “White Horse Inn” when she married her husband, Charles “Tex” Thornton, in 1937.

Music took a back seat in her life for a time, while her husband started his own business that eventually acquired the huge electronics conglomerate Litton Industries.

“Women had different roles then, and we played them,” recalls Thornton. “My husband didn’t care much about music. We therefore didn’t go to many concerts. We rode horses.”

Still, she nursed her love for jazz and opera by listening to records. When her husband died in 1981, “life went on in a different way,” she says. She was already involved in several scholarship programs for music students when USC President Steven B. Sample approached her about donating to and naming the school. “I thought he was out of his head,” she says. “I always want to know what I’m doing, not just jump into things. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw it would be very helpful to a lot of people. It was the biggest thing I’d ever done in one fell swoop.”

For a full report on the school's 125th anniversary and its place in the cultural life of the city, read Sunday's Arts & Books section, or click here.

Photo: Flora Laney Thornton, the benfactoress. Credit: Steve Cohn