(left to right) Mac Davis' wife, Lisë Davis; Patrice Rushen, Chair of the USC Thornton School's Popular Music Program; Mac Davis; Barbara Cane, SHOF West Coast Committee Events Director; SHOF Board Member and West Coast Events Chair Mary Jo Mennella; Joel Flatow, SHOF West Coast Committee Member; Chris Sampson, Founding Director of the Thornton School's Popular Music Program and Rebekah Alperin, SHOF West Coast Committee member
The 2019 fall semester kicked off at USC with an emotionally charged Master Class at the Thornton School of Music featuring legendary Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductee Mac Davis. Chris Sampson, the Founder of the Contemporary Music Program, hosted and moderated an intimate conversation with Mac who shared fond memories about his upbringing in Lubbock, Texas, and his multi-faceted career as an award-winning songwriter, artist, TV personality and actor.
With his acoustic guitar at his side, Davis recounted his early years working for Vee Jay records out of Atlanta where he met Billy Strange. Strange was looking for movie tunes in Hollywood and, though Mac wrote "A Little Less Conversation" for Aretha Franklin, he managed to get the song to Elvis Presley and re-worked a few lyrics to fit the film. Davis then went on to play his version for the students in the style of how he envisioned Aretha would have sung it, though she never did record it. Another of Mac's collaborations with Elvis, "In the Ghetto", captured the socially charged era of the late 60's and went on to become one of Davis' most performed works of his career. Later he went on to record for hit Producer, Rick Hall, which yielded another chart-topper, "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me" at the FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals.
Mac Davis displayed his natural tendency to rhyme conversations, showcasing his improv chops by answering a question by Chris in song as to what comes first, the music or the lyrics? He delighted the class by sharing his rise in Hollywood after meeting super- manager Sandy Gallin who introduced him to the world of television. Davis appeared in a number of television shows and feature films including his own self-titled variety show, The Mac Davis Show featuring the hit theme song "I Believe in Music". Davis also joked about his appearances on The Muppet Show with Ms. Piggy as co-star.
Mac shares his time in both Los Angeles and Nashville, and talked about how he continues to have success with recent collaborators such as Jeff Bhasker by contributing to the Bruno Mars chart song "Young Girls". Davis expressed his loving remembrance of working with the late Tim Bergling, known professionally as Avicii, on the international dance hit "Addicted to You", who, he added, had the same strong work ethic as Elvis. Davis has also worked with other A-listers such as Keith Urban and Rivers Cuomo in recent years.
After sharing pointers with the students about songwriting being an honorable profession and to "figure out what others have done and do it differently"- the students gave back to Mac. A medley arranged by outstanding freshman and sophomore classmates followed with a knockout performance of the Mac Davis & Dolly Parton co-write "Wildest Dreams" by Sophia Dion, which brought Mac and his wife Lisë Davis to tears. Ryan Mitchell performed a rousing rendition of "A Little Less Conversation " and the afternoon concluded with everyone up on their feet singing along to Ted Bordeau's performance of "I Believe In Music."
“Mac Davis enthralled the students with his vast experience in all areas of the entertainment field and showcased just a few gems from his enormous catalog of hits,” said Mary Jo Mennella (SHOF Board Member and West Coast Chair). “The students generously arranged and performed stunning renditions of Mac’s work which moved all of us to tears. It truly was a day to remember.”
"This SHOF Master Session gave students a rare insight into art and thinking of a consummate professional songwriter," said Chris Sampson. "Mr. Davis demonstrated how his mind is always putting together rhyming word combinations and how he has a gift for turning an overheard phrase into a timeless song."
In attendance from the USC Faculty was Chair of the Popular Music Division Patrice Rushen along with Songwriters Hall of Fame West Coast Committee members Mennella, West Coast SHOF Events Director Barbara Cane, and committee members Rebekah Alperin and Joel Flatow.