Michael Abels and Kali Uchis to be Honored at USC Thornton’s 2024 Commencement

By Evan Calbi

April 25th, 2024 – Update: USC will not be able to host the main stage ceremony on May 10th, 2024.

May 3rd, 2024 – Update: Kali Uchis, a Grammy, Billboard and American Music Award winning singer-songwriter, has let us know that she is unable to attend USC Thornton’s satellite Commencement ceremony. USC Thornton is pleased to be able to honor her with this year’s Outstanding Artistic Achievement award, and we hope she’ll return to speak to students on campus later.

On Friday, May 10th, USC will celebrate its 141st Commencement. At its satellite Commencement ceremony that day, the USC Thornton School of Music will honor two acclaimed musical artists: Thornton alum Michael Abels (’84), a Pulitzer-Prize winning composer, who will receive the Outstanding Alumni award; and Kali Uchis, a Grammy, Billboard and American Music Award winning singer-songwriter, who will receive the Outstanding Artistic Achievement award.

Abels, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2023, is best known for his genre-defying scores for the Jordan Peele films Get Out, Us and Nope. The score for Us won a World Soundtrack Award, the Jerry Goldsmith Award, a Critics Choice nomination, multiple critics awards, and was named “Score of the Decade” by The Wrap.

Abels’ creative output also includes many concert works, including the choral song cycle At War With Ourselves for the Kronos Quartet, the Grammy-nominated Isolation Variation for Hilary Hahn, and Omar, an opera co-composed with Grammy-winning recording artist Rhiannon Giddens. His concert works have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and many others. He is co-founder of the Composers Diversity Collective, an advocacy group to increase visibility of composers of color in film, gaming and streaming media.

Photo of performer Kali Uchis wearing a red dress surrounded by flowers.
Photo by Amaury Nessaibia.

Colombian-American superstar Kali Uchis first rose to prominence with her debut studio album, Isolation, which received widespread acclaim and peaked at number 34 on the Billboard 200. Her second studio album and first Spanish-language project, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) went double platinum, as verified by the Recording Industry Association of America, and features the double platinum global smash hit “telepatía.” Her third album, Red Moon in Venus, peaked at number four on the Billboard 200, while her fourth album and second Spanish-language project, Orquídeas, peaked at number two earlier this year, marking her highest chart position to date.

Uchis was featured on Kaytranada’s single “10%,” which won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording. Her other accolades include an American Music Award, two Billboard Music Awards, Premios Juventud and Premios Nuestra Tierra awards, a Latin Grammy Award nomination and more.

“USC Thornton is pleased to honor two exceptional and versatile musical artists who are doing groundbreaking work,” said USC Thornton Dean Jason King. “Michael Abels has been winning critical acclaim for film scores, concert work and opera, and has been at the forefront of promoting the work of composers of color. Kali Uchis has been charting new territory with award-winning musical projects in Spanish and English while collaborating with a host of exciting young artists. Both speakers are, in their own ways, models of creative achievement for Thornton students, and I look forward to hearing their remarks at Commencement.”

Click here for more information about USC Thornton’s Commencement and Honors Convocation ceremonies.


Photo of Michael Abels by Eric Schwabel.

TAGS: Arts Leadership, Choral and Sacred Music, Classical Guitar, Composition, Early Music Performance, Jazz Studies, Keyboard Collaborative Arts, Keyboard Studies, Music Teaching and Learning, Music Technology, Musicology, Organ Studies, Popular Music, Screen Scoring, Strings, Studio Guitar, Vocal Arts and Opera, Winds and Percussion,

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