UCLA has established a new scholarship named for Brian Wilson, the co-founder of the Beach Boys and one of the most celebrated American songwriters of the past half century.
The two-year award will be presented every other year to a junior in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music whose career aspirations include any combination of composing, arranging and producing popular music.
The scholarship is funded by a gift of $100,000 from David Leaf, a UCLA adjunct professor in musicology and a writer and filmmaker. Leaf was inspired to create the scholarship by his long friendship with Wilson, which began in the 1970s.
“I’m honored by David Leaf’s generosity in creating this scholarship in my name and feel very proud,” Wilson said. “I hope that the UCLA students who it supports will help lead the next wave of great musicians.”
The scholarship’s inaugural recipient is David Ghesser, a music composition major from Los Angeles, who plans to graduate in 2021. Ghesser had the opportunity to meet the award’s namesake Sept. 12, backstage at the Greek Theatre, shortly before a performance by Wilson.
“I’ve really loved Brian’s music for a long time — he’s one of my musical inspirations,” Ghesser said. “He’s an incredible genius in how he writes melodies and produces his songs. When I was told that I was going to be the first recipient of the Brian Wilson scholarship, I was honored to have my name associated with his.”
Leaf had been determined to meet Wilson even before their first chance encounter, during a pickup basketball game at a Los Angeles YMCA in 1976. Their working relationship and friendship began shortly after that, and Leaf’s book, “The Beach Boys and the California Myth,” was published in 1978. Later, Leaf collaborated with the artist on other projects, including the 2004 documentary “Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of ‘Smile,’” about the making of Wilson’s decades-in-the-works album.
“I was looking for a way to meaningfully honor Brian’s legacy in a way that was different from anything I’d done before, whether it was a book, a movie, liner notes or produce box sets,” Leaf said. “If you look at the 1960s, I would argue that he was one of the most, if not the most, influential, important and accomplished composers, arrangers and producers in contemporary music. This just struck me as the right thing to do.”
It also was through Wilson that Leaf met his wife. Eva Easton Leaf, who died in 2016, was one of the inspirations for the scholarship and is credited with David Leaf as the scholarship’s benefactor.
Leaf added that it was important for the scholarship to represent the breadth of Wilson’s considerable talents as a composer, arranger and producer.
To further fund the scholarship, the music school has launched an online crowdfunding campaign whose goal is to raise another $100,000 to match Leaf’s initial gift. To learn more about the effort or to donate, visit the campaign website.
Leaf’s gift is part of the Centennial Campaign for UCLA, which is scheduled to conclude in December.