USC Thornton establishes scholarship fund in Victor McElhaney’s name

The promising jazz student lost his life to gun violence last year.

An endowed scholarship has been established in honor of Victor McElhaney, a jazz studies student who tragically died near USC’s campus in March 2019. The Victor McElhaney Memorial Jazz Drumming Scholarship will be awarded to one undergraduate recipient each year who exhibits its namesake’s spirit and passion for jazz music, according to the Thornton School of Music.

“Victor’s death was a devastating loss for the Thornton School,” said Rob Cutietta, dean of the USC Thornton School of Music. “He was a bright light, a promising young man who was unafraid to ask the important questions we are now asking, of ourselves and our country, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Victor left an impression on everyone he met, and I’m pleased that we will be able to honor his legacy with this scholarship.”

The scholarship fund is comprised of donations from several sources within the USC Thornton community. Peter Erskrine, director of drumset studies, auctioned off more than 100 cymbals online from his personal collection to contribute to the cause. Thornton Board of Councilors members, McElhaney’s classmates, USC Trustees and an anonymous donor also gave generously to establish the scholarship endowment.

McElhaney, an Oakland native, transferred from California State University East Bay to USC in the fall of 2017. During his time as a Trojan, McElhaney was actively involved in USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs as well as USC Thornton’s Afro-Latin American Jazz Ensemble.

“Victor was a son of Oakland,” McElhaney’s mother, Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney, wrote in an online statement the day after his death. “He was a musician who drew his inspiration from the beat, soul, and sound of the Town and he belonged in every nook and cranny of Oakland.”

The USC community widely mourned McElhaney’s death. Hundreds of students gathered for his memorial service in March 2019, and the USC Black Alumni Association awarded a scholarship in his name for the 2019-2020 academic year. The Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs included a portrait of McElhaney in its recently-completed mural at the Gwynn Wilson Student Union.

“He believed in the power of music to touch lives, to heal, and to bring hope,” said Wanda Austin, USC’s interim president at the time of McElhaney’s death. “Victor’s loss will affect all of the faculty and students who knew him.”

The first recipient of Victor McElhaney Memorial Jazz Drumming Scholarship will be announced before the start of the 2020-21 school year.