Robert Cutietta awarded Presidential Medallion for advancing USC’s values in the field of the arts

Every year from 1983 through 2020, USC has awarded the USC Presidential Medallion to one or two people who have brought great honor and distinction to the university community. Last year, all USC staff, faculty and health care professionals were awarded the Presidential Medallion after their continued work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, for their work to advance the university’s overall mission, three members of the Trojan Family were honored by USC President Carol L. Folt at the 41st annual Academic Honors Convocation on Tuesday. USC News is profiling all three winners. Today’s honoree: Robert Cutietta, dean of the USC Thornton School of Music and the USC Kaufman School of Dance.

Robert Cutietta had no idea USC would start a dance school when he came to the university in 2002, much less that he would become dean of it.

Cutietta originally was chosen as the dean of the USC Thornton School of Music, and almost a decade after arriving on campus, he was tasked with starting and helming the USC Kaufman School of Dance, the university’s first new school in 41 years. That service to the arts has earned him one of this year’s USC Presidential Medallions.

I’m a bass player at heart. And what that means is that I stay in the background, I provide the foundation, and I let other people take the solos in the leads.

Robert Cutietta, Presidential Medallion recipient

“I have to admit, I had to gear myself up for this,” Cutietta said of his dance school assignment. “I’m a bass player at heart. And what that means is that I stay in the background, I provide the foundation, and I let other people take the solos in the leads. I feel I’ve been that way with being a dean, too.”

Cutietta, a longtime academic, was the director of the School of Music and Dance at the University of Arizona before coming to USC. He has performed and composed music for movies and TV, including the television series Lost Legends of the West, and has published a range of articles and books on music education, notably Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents and Who Knew? Answers to Questions About Classical Music You Never Thought to Ask, both published by Oxford University Press.

Robert Cutietta: introducing innovative degrees

At USC, Cutietta introduced innovative degrees, including groundbreaking popular music performance program that Rolling Stone called “the cutting-edge department that’s become the site of Los Angeles’ most productive new music scenes.”

“The popular music program is still pretty much the only one that’s out there,” Cutietta said. “We expanded that into production and EDM [electronic dance music] — I mean, what schools can you major in EDM creation?”

He applied that same innovative approach to the programs at the USC Kaufman School.

“What started to emerge was a school where you’re not really training dancers,” he said. “You’re creating artists who are dance makers.”

Double duty as dean of USC Thornton School of Music and USC Kaufman School of Dance

Cutietta, who has pulled double duty as dean of USC Thornton and USC Kaufman since the dance school opened, will retire at the end of the 2022 academic year. For the last few years, Cutietta has assisted in the search for two new deans.

“The worst thing that could happen to any institution is it starts stagnating, and it’s hard to keep innovating when the same people are in charge of everything,” he said. “Someone has to come in and shake it up with new ideas. For the good of the schools, it really is the time for new deans.”

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Chernobyl opera makes U.S. debut at USC


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USC Thornton School of Music has collaborated with the University of The Arts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy to produce a new opera chronicling the social and environmental disaster caused by the nuclear power plant’s explosion in Chernobyl, Ukraine, on April 26, 1986.

All the Truths We Cannot See: A Chernobyl Story premieres in the U.S. on April 21 at 8 p.m. in the USC Bing Theatre, and its world premiere was held in Helsinki on March 15.

This winter, the Thornton Vocal Arts & Opera students forming the cast – Krishna Raman, Madeleine Lew, Christine Marie Li, Lily Smith and Lorenzo Zapata – along with opera program resident stage director Ken Cazan, who directs the production, traveled to Helsinki for several weeks of preparation for the production. The team enjoyed getting to know their Finnish castmates and acclimating to the snowy weather, but when Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the preparation process took on greater importance for the performers.

“As living conduits of art, it’s our responsibility to tell the stories that instill change, that remind everyone of the past so that we can learn from our mistakes,” said Zapata. “Theoretically, one could learn the facts from a history book, but art takes history and fuses it with emotion, the most powerful teacher we humans possess. It’s hard at times to inhabit a character’s pain who was once real, but in doing so, reminding others of the past’s suffering may keep it just there, in the past.”

Glenda Dawn Goss, librettist for this work, said the themes All The Truths explores carry weight beyond the time period the opera covers, making it a timely production for audiences in 2022.

“Chernobyl embodies the fundamental conflicts of human existence: courage and cowardice,
love and hate, past and future, life and death,” she said.
Cazan said the work’s references to environmental disasters, incompetent leaders and human and environmental survival may help audiences draw parallels between the days following the power plant explosion in 1986 and the present day.
“It invariably happens that art anticipates reality,” he said.

Before the April 22 performance at the USC Bing Theatre, Sibelius Academy professor of opera Markus Lehtinen will join Goss and members of USC Thornton faculty in a discussion of the opera and the history that inspired it on Friday, April 22. He said the impact of this production is two-fold for both its performers and audiences.

“For me, the themes and questions we are dealing with in this opera make this project much more important than a normal co-production. The fact that students can be involved with the creative process also makes this process unique,” he said.

All The Truths was composed by Sibelius Academy doctoral student Uljas Pulkkis. He said the production is one-of-a-kind in its use of math and technology to ensure maximum sonic impact.

“My idiom is sound that fills the hall,” he said. “For this opera, I have created a new tool to create a big sound from the singers: a computer program that calculates the thickest orchestration that can be used for each singer without the voice being masked by the orchestra.”

USC Thornton Dean Robert Cutietta noted the “musical, political and social importance” of this production, a collaboration between two of the world’s leading music schools that exemplifies the power and impact inherent in cross-cultural collaboration.

“The event this opera explores had international implications and happened before most of our current students were born, and in light of current events, this story of Chernobyl remains especially poignant and timely. This collaborative project has the potential to make a life-changing impact on our students and audiences. Working in international partnership will amplify that message,” he said.

To reserve tickets for All The Truths We Cannot See: A Chernobyl Story at the USC Bing Theatre April 21-24, visit

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Study finds decade of insignificant change for women in popular music

For women in popular music, the song is still the same
MARCH 31, 2022 Communication and Marketing Staff Updated March 31, 2022 8:02 a.m.

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, results of a new research report reveal that for women in music, the last decade has been one of insignificant change in the recording studio.

The study, “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” is the fifth annual report on the music industry from Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. The report, funded by Spotify, provides a comprehensive industry update on inclusion across the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart. Specifically, the study examines the artists, songwriters, and producers credited on each of the 1,000 songs on this popular chart from 2012 to 2021. The investigation also quantitatively analyzes the gender and race/ethnicity of every individual in those three roles. Additionally, the study assesses every Grammy nominee receiving recognition in the categories of Record the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, and Producer of the Year for the same time frame.

In 2021, 23.3% of artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart were women. There has been little change over time for women artists — only 21.8% of artists across ten years and 1,000 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts were women. This is a far cry from the percentage of women in the U.S. population (51%).

In contrast to the lack of women artists, artists from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups represented over half of 2021’s artists (57.2%). Across the decade examined, people of color represented 47.8% of the more than 1,900 artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts. This overall percentage masks an over-time increase, however. While the percentage of underrepresented artists peaked in 2020 at 59%, 2021 is still 18.8 percentage points greater than the percentage of underrepresented artists in 2012 (38.4%).

“Despite industry activism and advocacy, there has been little change for women on the popular charts since 2012,” said Smith. “Although the data reveal an increase for women of color, these findings indicate that there is more work to be done.”

The study also explored the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity for artists. Notably, 55% of all women artists in 2021 were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, as were 58% of 2021’s men artists. For underrepresented women, 2021 reflects a 6 percentage-point increase from 2020 (49%), though is still below the high watermark of 73% for women artists of color which occurred in 2018. Overall, 10% of women artists across the 10 years examined were women of color.

Consistent with previous years, the report found that women songwriters and producers remain outnumbered. In 2021, 14.4% of songwriters were women. This figure has not changed over time. Women comprised only 12.7% of the songwriters evaluated across all 10 years studied, a ratio of 6.8 men to every 1 woman songwriter. More than half of the songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts from 2012 to 2021 did not include any women songwriters.

In 2021, more women of color than white women wrote songs that appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart, reversing a drop observed in 2020. However, 2021 was still below the 10-year-high of 44 women of color witnessed in 2019.

For producers, women held only 3.9% of all producing positions across the songs on the 2021 Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts. The percentage of women producers in 2021 increased non-significantly from 2020 and 2012, but did not surpass the 7-year high point of 5% in 2019. Overall, across a total of 1,522 producing credits in the 10-year sample, 97.2% were men and 2.8% were women. This is a ratio of 35 men to every 1 woman producer. Only 10 producers across the decade-spanning sample were women of color. The ratio of men producers to underrepresented women producers is 148 to 1.

“For women songwriters and producers, the needle has not moved for the last decade,” said Smith. “In particular, women of color are virtually shut out of producing the most popular songs each year. We know there are talented women from all backgrounds who are not getting access, opportunity, or credit for their work in this arena.”

The study also investigates one solution that has been attempted to address the lack of women engineers and producers across popular songs. That solution, the Recording Academy’s Women in the Mix pledge, launched in 2019. Across the Hot 100 Year-End Songs in 2021, there were two women producers and engineers whose work could be potentially attributed to the Women in the Mix pledge. One, Ariana Grande, produced and engineered her own songs alongside two other pledge-takers. The second, Jenna Andrews, produced on a song that included a pledge-taker. Two other engineers, Heidi Wang and Gena Johnson, each worked with a pledge-taker in 2021.

Thus, only a handful of women who worked across the most popular songs in 2021 can be potentially attributed to the Women in the Mix pledge. Moreover, given that one woman produced and engineered her own songs, it is even more clear that the Women in the Mix pledge has not impacted the ranks of women producers and engineers on some of the most profitable songs in the industry.

“Industry solutions must do more than offer lip service to creating change,” said Smith. “They must take aim at the underlying reasons for exclusion and have robust evaluation and accountability metrics to ensure that they result in real progress.”

The report also updates last year’s analysis of 10 years of Grammy nominations across five categories. 14.2% of all nominees in 2022 in the five categories examined were women. In 2022, the percentage of women nominees decreased compared to 2021 (28.1%). This decrease occurred across 4 categories. As in 2021 and 8 of the previous 10 years, no women were nominated for Producer of the Year.

Overall, 13.6% of all nominees in these 5 categories over the last decade were women. Across the 10 years evaluated, women were more likely to be nominated for Best New Artist (44.4%) and Song of the Year (28.8%). On the other hand, they comprised the lowest percentage of nominees in the Album of the Year (9.7%) and Producer of the Year (1.9%) categories.

Furthermore, the study examines individual nominations by race/ethnicity for women. Of the 262 women nominated for a Grammy, 44.3% were underrepresented. The majority of white and underrepresented women were nominated only once across the 10 years studied.

“Uplifting women in music is crucial, as it allows women to grow in their careers and opens doors for younger women aspiring to work in this industry,” said Karla Hernandez, the study’s lead author. “This is especially true for women of color, who are often excluded from prestigious institutions and career recognition. We must see women’s work showcased and nominated, giving them space in writing rooms and studios. By actively working toward inclusion, we can bring forth a new wave of talent and creativity.”

The report also provides solutions for change to increase the number of women as artists, songwriters, and producers and sustain the growth for underrepresented artists.

“To rise to a challenge, the industry must first understand it. This is why the efforts of Stacy Smith, Karla Hernandez and the entire team behind the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative are critical,” said Dawn Ostroff, chief content and advertising officer for Spotify. “These results underscore the need for action. We are committed to continuing to support this important research, to elevating women who can, in turn, create opportunities for women, and to making meaningful progress to improve equity across the world of music.”

The report is the latest from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and can be found online here.

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USC Thornton alumni and faculty win at 2022 Grammy Awards


USC Thornton artists, including both faculty and alumni, won in multiple categories for the 64th GRAMMY Awards, which took place on Sunday, April 3. After the ceremony was delayed as a result of the Omicron variant, the show moved to Las Vegas for the first time.

The winners

Thornton Jazz Studies Department faculty member Vince Mendoza won in the category of Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for To The Edge Of Longing (Edit Version) with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Julia Bullock.

Alum Carlos Rafael Rivera (MM ’04, DMA ’10) was a co-winner in the category of Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for The Queen’s Gambit, along with the score for Soul.

Thornton Screen Scoring program faculty member Lolita Ritmanis won Best Classical Compendium for “Women Warriors – The Voices of Change,” which she produced with Mark Mattson and Amy Andersson.

Multiple alumni and faculty were included in the win for Best Choral Performance for Mahler: Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of A Thousand,” conducted by Gustavo Dudamel and featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Los Angeles Master Chorale, National Children’s Chorus and Pacific Chorale. A few of the many Thornton artists involved include Grant Gershon (BM ’85), artistic director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Robert Istad (DMA ’06), director of the Pacific Chorale.

The United States Army Field Band, featuring many alumni of USC Thornton including J.G. Miller (DMA ’13), Kevin Pick (MM ’01) and Chris O’Brien (GCRT ’20), won for Best Immersive Audio Album for Soundtrack of the American Soldier. This award, part of the 63rd GRAMMY Awards, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Non-degreed alum Taylor Eigsti won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for Tree Falls.

In addition to these wins, Thornton Music Industry program faculty member Andrae Alexander was one of the songwriters for Jon Batiste’s We Are, which won Album of The Year.

Celebrating the Nominees

Congratulations to alumni and faculty from across the school who were nominated.

Two recent alumni, Tehillah Alphonso (BM ’20) and Mak Grgi? (MM ’12, DMA ’16, GCRT ’20), received their first nominations. Alphonso, who graduated from the Thornton Popular Music program, was nominated for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for “A Change Is Gonna Come,” performed by Tonality, the celebrated choral ensemble founded by alum Alexander Lloyd Blake (DMA ’19). Classical guitarist Grgi?, who earned three degrees at Thornton, was nominated for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for Mak|Bach.

Thornton’s Classical Guitar program was also included in a nomination for the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, the award-winning ensemble founded at USC Thornton that features current Classical Guitar faculty members Bill Kanengiser and Scott Tennant as well as alumni John Dearman (MM ’83) and Matt Greif (MM ’92). The ensemble was nominated as part of Best Choral Performance for “The Singing Guitar,” conducted by Craig Hella Johnson.

A highlight of the many nominations for USC Thornton alumni and faculty also includes alum Michael Tilson Thomas (MM ’76), who was nominated for Best Classical Compendium for Berg: Violin Concerto; Seven Early Songs and Three Pieces for Orchestra.

Alum Gretchen Parlato (GCRT ’03) was nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Flor. The Yellowjackets, the jazz supergroup featuring faculty members Bob Mintzer, Russell Ferrante and Will Kennedy, was nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for Jackets XL, featuring the WDR Big Band.

Screen scoring alum Ludwig G?ransson (GCRT ’08) was nominated for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for The Mandalorian: Season 2 – Vol. 2 (Chapters 13-16).

Jazz Studies faculty member Vince Mendoza received a second nomination for Best Instrumental Composition for Concerto for Orchestra: Finale with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, featuring Antonio S?nchez and Derrick Hodge.

Agave Baroque, the string chamber music group featuring Thornton alumni Kevin Cooper (DMA ’06) and William Skeen (MM ’01) in collaboration with countertenor Reginald Mobley, received a nomination for Best Classical Compendium for the album American Originals: A New World, A New Canon.

Music Industry alum Leon McQuay III (BS ’16) was one of the songwriters for H.E.R.’s Back of My Mind, which was nominated for Album of The Year.

Other Notable Nominations

Music Industry faculty represent two artists who were nominated. Faculty member Loren Medina, founder of Guerrera Marketing & PR Inc., represents client Kali Uchis, who earned a nomination for Best Musica Urbana Album, and faculty member Jonathan Azu, founder of management firm Culture Collective, represents client Cory Henry, who earned a nomination for Best Progressive R&B Album.

Other notable nominations include a Best New Artist nomination for Saweetie, or Diamont? Harper, who graduated from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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