Ella Fitzgerald Fellowship Advances Equity and Diversity in Musical Theater School of Dramatic Arts USC


March 2, 2021

USC’s School of Dramatic Arts musical theater program has its first endowed scholarship – and it’s courtesy of the First Lady of Song.

The Ella Fitzgerald Scholarship, funded by a donation of $ 100,000 from the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, offers four-year support to incoming BFA musical theater students in need of financial assistance. Going forward, SDA will have two Ella Fitzgerald Fellows at all times. The scholarship also supports the School’s commitment to educate more Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) students.

“One of the cornerstones of this program is the emphasis on elevating marginalized voices that have traditionally not been included in musical theater,” said Kenneth Noel Mitchell, director of musical theater and co-head of the first cycle of actor. “We want to do everything we can to be more inclusive and to open up opportunities. This scholarship is extremely helpful to what we do.

By making the teaching of musical theater more accessible – and by amplifying voices too often sidelined – the experience of the program becomes richer for all involved. This is especially important at this historic moment, Mitchell noted.

“Because when we come out of this pandemic, we want our students to continue to be innovators and creators, and to take musical theater where it needs to go in the 21st century. We’re not just recreating what’s been done before. Our graduates will draw on their diverse identities and experiences to reinterpret and reinvent musical theater for generations to come.

Ella Sings Broadway album cover

Known primarily for her jazz, Ella Fitzgerald was also fond of pop and musical theater, which inspired albums such as Ella sings Broadway. Courtesy of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.

USC and the “first lady of song”

Just as the endowed scholarship is a first for the SDA’s musical theater program, it also marks a notable number 1 for the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.

“This is the 30th scholarship funded by the Foundation, but the first in musical theater,” said Fran Morris Rosman, Executive Director of the Foundation. “People think Ella is a jazz singer, but she started out as a popular singer. She performed the Great American songbook and could sing a Broadway tune like no one else. So, this is very appropriate. Ella would be delighted!

Fitzgerald’s connection to USC dates back to at least 1992, shortly after the 13-time Grammy-winner retired from the scene. That year, four years before his death, USC Friends of Music presented Fitzgerald with its prestigious Magnum Opus Award.

“I have wanted us to support a musical theater program for so long, and I am the happiest foundation director on the planet knowing this is in memory of Ella,” said Rosman. “USC is a great school and we love working with everyone there. We are excited to start this scholarship at USC, here in Ella’s hometown of Los Angeles.

The appreciation goes both ways. “We are very grateful for the quality of the Foundation towards USC,” said Mitchell. “This scholarship is yet another amazing example.”

Indeed, over the years, the Foundation has granted grants and donations to support:

  • USC’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry Community Dentistry Program;
  • The jazz program at USC Thornton School of Music; and
  • USC Keck School of Medicine, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences community programs

In addition, the program “ONE BOOK! JUST FOR ME! ”Program donates thousands of books to USC neighborhood schools in partnership with the university Joint educational project.

About SDA’s musical theater program

USC’s BFA in Musical Theater offers unparalleled opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and creativity by blending the extraordinary resources of three of the nation’s leading art schools: USC School of Dramatic Arts, USC Glorya Kaufman Dance School and USC Thornton School of Music. With its expert faculty, modern curriculum, and proximity to the country’s entertainment capital, this degree provides optimal training for students whose destination is stage, screen and beyond.


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