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Legendary Rock Gods Find a Home at USC

The University of South Carolina School of Music Library is now able to Rock and Roll All Nite, thanks to a generous donation of KISS memorabilia. The Downs Family of Charleston recently gifted a collection of 26 guitars, original artwork by guitarist Paul Stanley, costumes, signed photographs and other artifacts from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Grammy-winning band. 

Charlotte Downs is a School of Music Music Industries Studies (MIS) student who will be one of the first graduates of the program this May. The MIS program was created in 2020 when Coordinator and Instructor, Jeremy Polley, joined the School of Music. The goal of the program is to provide students with the education and tools necessary to be successful 21st-century musicians or professionals working in music-adjacent careers.  

“Students learn about the three major areas of the music industry (recording, live production and instrument sales) through real-world examples, allowing them to take control of their careers and thrive in a rapidly evolving field,” said Polley. 

Charlotte’s experience at the School of Music reflects this. She feels the program has been unlike anything else at the university. She attributes this to the life-changing opportunity she had through an internship working with Danny Wimmer Presents, a festival promotions company. Polley describes Charlotte as determined, with a fierce drive and a collaborative spirit.  

"I was able to attend the Welcome to Rockville music festival in Daytona Beach, Florida in the fall of 2021 and most recently I attended the Louder than Life music festival in Louisville, Kentucky this past September,” said Charlotte who attended with other MIS students. “We worked alongside industry professionals and saw the ins and outs of putting on and running huge music festivals.” 

Charlotte Downs at Music Festival

The MIS group met members of KISS, spoke with industry professionals and watched them perform. These experiences make the KISS collection coming to the University of South Carolina that much more impactful.  

The KISS collection will be on display from April 20 through May 15 at the Koger Center for the Arts. This exhibit showcases how KISS is the embodiment of a successful artist that created a brand people follow and believe in. KISS writes, records, promotes and markets their own music. This is what the program was made for, for the students to succeed with the knowledge of real-world experiences.  This exhibit allows students to network and connect. 

This donation has opened up a line of communication with Doc McGee (KISS’ manager) and provided opportunities for our students to have face-to-face conversations with icons like Doc, Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer.

– Jeremy Polley, Coordinator and Instructor of Music Industry Studies

The collection was donated by Charlotte’s father, John Upshaw Downs, Jr., who has been a KISS fan since he was young. He has traveled and followed the band, often going on KISS cruises where he met the band members, was able to collect guitars, artwork, and other KISS items.  

John decided he wanted to donate his collection to The USC School of Music library because Columbia is near their home, and if sometime down the road the family wanted to go see it, they would be able to. Having his daughter, Charlotte, be an inaugural member of the first graduating class of MIS students was also a motivating factor.  

I am excited to be celebrating 50 years of KISS with an exhibit of memorabilia that was generously donated to the USC School of Music Library,” said Director of the Koger Center for the Arts, Nate Terracio.  “I hope that the Koger Center is still as relevant in the world of music when we turn 50 as KISS is today.” 

The MIS degree combines musical studies with business so students can still follow their passion for music outside of performing. The courses include a variety of sport and entertainment management, music history, entrepreneurship and management, and other business courses. On top of the courses, a six-credit hour practicum is also required for the program. Charlotte says this requirement has introduced her to so many opportunities. She is an Event Operations intern with the SC Philharmonic, where she has learned how to plan and execute music events in Columbia. 

“Concert Choir is a huge part of why I came to USC,” said Charlotte. “I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to continue singing with this ensemble throughout my four years and in the program.”  

Charlotte grew up listening to all kinds of music, which led her to love exploring different genres and the history of music. “I would listen to the music of composers like Bach, Handel, Rachmaninoff and Chopin with my mom, but anytime I would get in the car with my dad we would be listening to bands like ACDC, Black Sabbath, Guns & Roses and Mötley Crüe.”  

“I think this dichotomy led me to the realization that music is made to be appreciated and I always want to be around it, no matter the genre.” Given the versatility of music she's been exposed to with her family, this is what prompted her career and education choices.  

Charlotte Downs at Music Festival

“The collection remaining at USC gives me another reason to come back and visit in the future,” said Charlotte. Her favorite piece is a certain Paul Stanley autographed guitar that is dedicated to the USC School of Music. “It has a purple cracked mirror design that has always stood out to me, and I think it is really special that it is dedicated to the School of Music.”  

 Charlotte believes it is so special that these instruments and pieces of memorabilia will be used to educate and teach students in different classes moving forward.  

“It is nice knowing that these pieces of rock and roll history will be used by students completing the same degree that I am graduating with,” said Charlotte. 

Support Music Industry Studies

Music Industry Studies provide students with skills to achieve a career in the music industry through experiential learning opportunities, enhanced classroom learning as well as providing real-world knowledge of music venues, artists, recording studios and music businesses of all types. Support the next generation of students by a direct gift to the Music Industry Studies Scholarship Fund or the Music Industry Studies Enrichment Fund.

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