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USC honors Brian Wilson with Thornton Legacy Award

December 8, 2008 |  1:38 pm

Two of the great songwriters of the rock era — Brian Wilson and Lamont Dozier — shared a bit of stage time over the weekend at USC’s annual Charles Dickens Dinner at the Biltmore Hotel.

While there’s little immediate connection apparent between the 19th century British author and the Beach Boys founder or one-third of Motown’s astonishingly prolific hit songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the justification was simple: Wilson was chosen as this year’s recipient of the Thornton Legacy Award, and last year’s winner — Dozier, who’s also coaching the university’s songwriting students — made the presentation to Wilson.

After reciting some of the testimonials to Wilson from Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Beatles producer George Martin, Dozier added one of his own.

“As a contemporary and fellow songwriter, I can say that he is revered as the songwriter’s songwriter.  He wrote songs that we wish we had written and kept us motivated to write at our best. After hearing 'Good Vibrations,' the entire songwriting community knew they had heard something truly extraordinary... Songs like 'Surfer Girl,' 'California Girls' and 'Surfin’ USA' I’m sure motivated more than a few people from places like Madison, Wis., in the middle of January, to throw surfboards on top of their Volkswagens to make the trip west to see if it was all true. This image of the Southern California lifestyle persists today and is inseparable with the music created by Brian."

Wilson, in turn, told Dozier how much he admired the music he helped create at Motown and offered additional praise to the night’s two student winners of the new Brian Wilson Scholarship Award at USC, Courtney Fortune and Derik Nelson.

Fortune and Nelson sang “Raining in Los Angeles,” a song Fortune wrote about her experience of moving from Seattle to study music at USC, which recently announced the establishment of a baccalaureate degree in popular music performance to go along with those it has long offered in classical and jazz performance.

Later, Nelson was part of a vocal and instrumental ensemble, led by veteran keyboardist-conductor Patrice Rushen, that entertained the audience of a couple hundred invitees to a medley of Wilson’s biggest Beach Boys hits.

On the pressure of singing to a couple of the most revered musicians in pop history, Fortune, a junior, said: “That’s the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life.”

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Dozier congratulating Wilson with Robert Cutietta, dean of the USC Thorton School of Music, by Lee Salem.