(left to right) USC Thornton School of Music students Rebecca Webster and Tehillah Alphonso; SHOF Board Member and West Coast Events Chair Mary Jo Mennella; West Coast Committee member Mike Todd; Chris Sampson, Founding Director of the Thornton School's Popular Music Program; Jackie DeShannon; West Coast Committee member Michael Pizzuto; Barbara Cane, SHOF West Coast Committee Events Director; SHOF West Coast Committee Vice Chair Kathy Spanberger; USC Thornton School of Music student Eliza Petrosyan and Patrice Rushen, Chair of the USC Thornton School's Popular Music Program
Jackie DeShannon was the latest Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee to be interviewed at USC’s Thornton School of Music by Chris Sampson, the Founder of the Contemporary Music Program, on Friday October 25th to the delight of students who honored Jackie with inspirational questions and a glowing tribute to her catalog of hits.
Jackie recounted signing her initial record deal with Liberty Records, after which she toured extensively - including opening for the Beatles during the height of Beatle-mania. So many wonderful anecdotes followed including collaborating with Jimmy Page (“Don’t Turn Your Back On Me”), Marianne Faithful (“Come and Stay With Me”) which was also covered by Cher and later by Jackie herself. The students then learned that The Byrds sang on DeShannon’s early demos rounding out her early career with iconic collaborators.
It wasn’t until moving to New York that Jackie broke through and topped the charts by recording Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now is Love”. DeShannon shared that this song had undergone a number of re-writes and emphasized that songwriters consider re-working a song until they feel it’s complete, and strive not to settle for less. Her success with “What the World Needs Now Is Love” led to an array of television performances and tours which Jackie shared with the class by showing a highlight reel of TV appearances such as Shindig!, Where the Action Is and The Johnny Cash Show.
Continuing her success in the 1960’s, Jackie wrote and recorded another smash that again had a love theme with “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”. DeShannon underscored how her love songs she wrote decades ago still serve the current turbulent times and world today as well. As popular today as it was during the ‘60s, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” brought the students to their feet while singing along with Jackie during the class. Jackie recalled her encounters with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen through mutual friends and associates, and said she then returned to the charts in the 1980s as a writer of her hugely successful song co-written by Donna Weiss, “Bette Davis Eyes”. The song had been rejected by a multitude of artists before Kim Carnes recorded it, and again, DeShannon encouraged students to be mindful of contract terms and to truly understand their agreements by not signing anything that is contrary to their artistic vision. “Clarity of purpose” was a recurring theme throughout the day as Jackie encouraged all students to stick to their vision and examine the business as well as the creative aspects of the music industry.
SHOF Board Member and West Coast Chair Mary Jo Mennella commented, “Jackie was a delight on campus and the students had the privilege of hearing firsthand from a woman who led the way and wrote and recorded iconic hits that have remained relevant for decades”.
"Jackie and her music have been a cultural touchstone that has brought together countless artists, writers and fans,” Chris Sampson added. “The music that our students study on a daily basis truly came to life as they heard firsthand accounts from Jackie of how it was created. Also, Jackie's words of wisdom and advice on how to navigate a mercurial music profession will stay with the students for years to come."
In attendance from the USC Faculty was Chair of the Popular Music Division Patrice Rushen who arranged a memorable sing-along tribute to Jackie by the students along with Songwriter Hall of Fame West Coast Committee members including Vice Chair Kathy Spanberger, Events Director Barbara Cane, Michael Pizzuto, Mike Todd and Mennella.
The SHOF/USC Master Sessions, now in their 7th year, have hosted sessions featuring David Foster, Billy Steinberg, Benny Blanco, Graham Nash, Donovan and Ralph Peer, Bill Withers, Linda Perry, Desmond Child, Lamont Dozier, Dan Reynolds and Evan Lamberg, Carole Bayer Sager, Irving Burgie, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Paul Williams, Steve Dorff, Jason Mraz and Allee Willis.