The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson Got a High School Music Class ‘F’ Changed to an ‘A’

by Sean Griffin

Brian Wilson isn’t the only influential person with a similar story.

Albert Einstein famously couldn’t speak in complete sentences until he was five. He went on to become arguably the greatest physicist and scientist of all time. Michael Jordan was famously cut from his high school varsity team and placed on the junior varsity squad. He went on to become arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Steven Spielberg was rejected twice when applying for USC’s film school. He went on to become arguably the greatest filmmaker and director of all time. Are we sensing a pattern here?

Early failures in life aren’t always indicators of future troubles; sometimes, they’re actually indicators of future success. Experience is the best teacher, but experience without persistence is meaningless. Einstein, Jordan, and Spielberg all persisted to achieve monumental success, despite previous setbacks and indications that they might not succeed. And so too did Beach Boys’ frontman Brian Wilson.

June 20, 2022 was Brian Wilson’s 80th birthday, and scores of accomplished musicians and actors wished him a happy birthday. Elton John, a musical titan in his own right, called Wilson the “only real pop genius in the world.” However, while many across the music landscape today regard Wilson as a true musical genius, that was not always the case. Here’s the story of how Brian Wilson once failed an assignment in his high school music class.

Brian Wilson’s Failure…and Its Reversal

While Wilson was attending Hawthorne High School at 17 years old, his music teacher named Fred Morgan gave him an “F” on a composition assignment. However, the teacher admitted that Wilson possessed an above-average understanding of technical classical musicians like Bach and Beethoven. Why did the teacher fail Wilson, then, if he admitted that he was a talented student?

At the end of the semester, students were tasked with turning in a 120-measure piano composition, but Wilson turned in a 32-measure piece. When asked years later about the incident, the teacher Morgan responded, “I had nothing against the song; it was nice, but it just wasn’t what I asked him for.”

In 2018, Hawthorne High School finally righted the wrong: the school went back and changed his “F” on the assignment to an “A.”

However, the craziest twist in the story is that the 32-measure composition he turned in was the beginning to the Beach Boys’ song “Surfin’.” “Surfin'” became the starting point for the band; the song peaked at No. 75 on the charts and pegged them as the pioneers of the burgeoning West Coast sound.

“Brian wrote a composition for me and it turned out to be ‘Surfin’,” his old music teacher once said. “That composition got an ‘F’, but it made a million dollars.”

Brian Wilson’s failed assignment in music class is proof that failure is a fact of life: even for geniuses.