Black Music Month: USC alumni and faculty

USC is home to some of the most successful musicians and music professionals in the industry.

A photo of Saweetie performing on stage singing into a microphone. She is wearing a pink top and has pink and green hair.

Each June, we celebrate Black Music Month as a way of commemorating the monumental contributions that Black people have made to music, and both the innovation and creation of many genres. The month was designated as African American Music Appreciation Month in 1979 to recognize and honor African American’s musical influences and contributions to the culture of music.

In the heart of Los Angeles, USC students sit front row to an ever-expanding music climate as the city leads the frontier across an array of genres, innovations and collaborations.

USC Thornton School of Music is home to a variety of successful musicians, of which Saweetie, 24k Goldn and UMI are just a couple. Professor Patrice Rushen leads the highly-acclaimed popular music program, known for laying the foundations for long-lasting music careers. USC is no stranger to laying the roots for a successful career in the music industry, and the following groundbreakers are part of a successful group of musical Trojan trailblazers:

Jae Deal

Jae Deal, from Baltimore, Maryland, is an award-winning composer, producer, arranger and professor at USC Thornton. Best known for his work in the genres of pop, gospel and hip-hop, Deal has taught music production classes at USC as well as MUSC 320: Hip-hop Music and Culture alongside musicologist Sean Nye.


Saweetie has been taking the world by storm ever since she graduated from USC Annenberg with a communication degree. Not only is the star-studded songstress talented in the studio, but she’s also an educated queen who learned the ins and outs of branding and marketing during her time as a Trojan, and is now leading the pack as a digital wizard with her musical branding. She even shouted out USC in her hit “ICY GRL” “Bae Mix” remix with Kehlani.

“See, I went to USC and got my college degree.” - Saweetie

24k Goldn

24k Goldn has a musical legacy that is difficult to miss, especially because of the popular track “I Go to USC’' ft. Yasin that the duo released in 2020. Since releasing the iconic USC tribute track, Golden has achieved fame with hit songs like “Mood” ft. Iann Dior, and his 2021 studio album, “El Dorado” which featured artists including Future, DaBaby and Swae Lee.

Patrice Rushen

Patrice Rushen leads the USC Popular Music Program as the program chair and an associate professor of practice. Her hit single “Forget Me Nots” has been sampled widely, and she’s won four Grammys, along with creating original compositions for films and television. She is also known for being the first female musical director for multiple top entertainment award shows, including the Grammy Awards, the Emmy Awards, the People’s Choice Awards and the NAACP Image Awards.


Tierra Umi Wilson, 24-year-old R&B and soul singer-songwriter, was born in Seattle, Washington, and attended USC before leaving to pursue her music career further. Since leaving, Umi has opened for artists including Burna Boy and has released hit tracks including “Remember Me” and “Love Affair.” The talented songstress dropped her album, “A Forest in the City,” in 2022 and has worked with Keep Cool and RCA Records.

Love Keyyz

Love Keyyz is studying popular music as a singer-songwriter at USC Thornton. She returned to college for the purpose of networking and loves being part of a “community of like-minded individuals.” Keyyz will graduate from USC in 2025, and after having already performed a variety of shows across campus and L.A., she looks forward to advancing her career even further.

“No more big fish, little pond vibes,” Keyyz said. “I knew who I was coming into this university, and the rate at which I’m able to grow musically has been unbelievable. I’m a forever student of music, and being at USC has made me sharper.”

Jonathan Azu

Jonathan Azu teaches MUIN 430: Artist Management and Development at USC Thornton. When he’s not teaching, he is the founder and CEO of Culture Collective, an artist management company that is home to celebrated artists including Leon Thomas, Michelle Williams, Cory Henry and more.

Deborah Jane Burke

Deborah Jane Burke is a faculty member at USC Annenberg, but her talents know no limits outside the classroom. Burke, an alumni of both Stanford and USC, operates her own production house, House of Deborah Jane Studios. This past spring, she debuted an original scene from “Strange Fruit: The Hip-hopera,” her self-written and self-produced hip-hopera about racial reconciliation.

Heran Mamo

Heran Mamo, a hip-hop and R&B reporter at Billboard, has profiled artists including SZA, Burna Boy, The Weeknd, Ice Spice and more. Her talents and intensive work ethic know no limits, and have opened doors including South by Southwest, Billboard Power 100 and Good Morning America. The vibrant writer graduated from USC Annenberg in 2019 and has since worked at Billboard Magazine.

Ronnie Quest & CHNL 301

DJ, producer and musical artist Ronnie Quest graduated from USC in 2022. Known for his sensational talents as a DJ, Quest also has a selection of beloved hip-hop tracks including “Brown Skin Brown Liquor.” He is also a part of CHNL301, a musical collective and production house for all genres. He frequently collaborates with other current and former USC students, including fellow collective member, Justin Colocho.

USC is home to some of the most innovative, creative and talented trailblazers within the music, media, entertainment communities. The above innovators have left, and continue to leave, a sizable impression on USC, inspiring generations of Trojans to come.