His father was a ragtime pianist and his grandfather a Wagner critic. He was a student of Paul Hindemith at Yale University, before entering the U.S. Navy in 1942 where he served during World War II. After the war, he pursued a career on Wall Street and later, as a jazz pianist, after Duke Ellington heard him play the piano, and arranged an engagement for him at a New York jazz club.
Many of his over 100 compositions are characterized by a distinct jazz flavor. He is also one of the first classical composers to write for the electric guitar and electric bass guitar (Sonar plexus, 1968; Liebesrock, 1968–69). A discussion of his works appears in R. Tomaro: Contemporary Compositional Techniques for the Electric Guitar in United States Concert Music.
- 1995 Rome Prize
- Tomaro 2001.
- New York Public Library
- Tomaro, Robert. 1992. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Press; New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 and ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Tomaro, Robert. 2001. "Thorne, Francis". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, 29 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 25:. London: Macmillan; New York: Grove's Dictionaries. ISBN 1-56159-239-0 and ISBN 0-333-60800-3
- Francis Thorne's page at Theodore Presser Company
- Sigma Alpha Iota's Francis Thorne page at the Wayback Machine (archived October 14, 2007)
- Francis Thorne Papers in the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
- Francis Thorne interview by Bruce Duffie, May 3, 1986