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Songwriters Project mentors and showcases next generation

Feb. 24 is deadline for the 12th annual Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project

The Johnny Mercer Foundation and the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University are seeking the nation’s most talented songwriters, aged 18 to 30 years, for the 12th annual Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project. Applications are being accepted through Friday, Feb. 24. The application form, guidelines and full details are available online at

The culminating Songwriters in Concert event will be held June 24 at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts on the Evanston campus.

Each year, 12 emerging songwriters in musical theatre, country, Latin, rock and contemporary pop music are selected to participate in a free-of-charge, week-long songwriting program of master classes and workshops. The project continues the legacy of legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer, who was a dedicated mentor to young singers and songwriters throughout his career. The project is sponsored by The Johnny Mercer Foundation.

Johnny Mercer
Legendary songwriter and lyricist Johnny Mercer, who wrote more than 1,400 songs

Master teachers Craig Carnelia and Lari White, program instructors since 2010, willlead the workshops along with a third teacher to be announced. Past teachers include Tony Award-winner Lin Manuel Miranda(“Hamilton”)  and Academy Award-winnerAmanda McBroom (“The Rose”).

Last year, more than 120 applicants applied for the prestigious program, which has been a catalyst to the careers of many artists. Among the past participants are Golden Globe-winners and Tony Award-nominated Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; Fred Ebb Award-winner, Sam Willmott; Jonathan Larson Award-winner Nikko Benson; and Latin Grammy Award-winners Obed Bermudez,and singer/actress Jennifer Peña.


The mission of the Johnny Mercer Foundation (JMF) is to support the discipline of songwriting in the tradition of the Great American Songbook as exemplified by the life and work of the legendary Johnny Mercer: lyricist, composer, performer, collaborator and producer. The Foundation continues Johnny’s legacy by partnering with individuals and organizations dedicated to celebrating and nourishing the disciplines he mastered and the causes he and his wife, Ginger Mercer, championed.

JMF has created a number of dynamic creative joint ventures with several prestigious institutions to facilitate its goals including; the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals, Accentuate The Positive Programs (New York, -Kaufman Music Center, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Miami), The Musical Theater Program at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Georgia State University Fellowship Program, Florida International University Fellowship Program, the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project with Northwestern and the Johnny Mercer Archives at Georgia State University. In addition, JMF also supports various charitable causes, including UCLA’s Art of The Brain, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (Mark Taper and Johnny Mercer Artists Program), Braille Institute (Johnny Mercer Children and Adult Choirs) and KCET TVs Cinema Series. For more information, please visit


The American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University brings together the nation’s leading artists in music theatre to work with Northwestern’s faculty and students. AMTP’s goal is to nourish and invigorate American music theatre by developing and producing new musicals; increasing opportunities for education and training with Northwestern’s theatre, music theatre and dance programs; and creating new connections between professional and academic communities. To learn more about AMTP, visit


The legendary Johnny Mercer (1900-1976) composed more than 1,400 songs, including “Accentuate The Positive,” “Fools Rush in (Where Angels Fear to Tread”), “Any Place to Hang My Hat Is Home,” “Too Marvelous for Words” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.” He also wrote songs for 100 motion pictures and won four “Best Song” Academy Awards. A top radio personality and recording artist, he was a co-founder and president of Capitol Records and established the Songwriters Hall of Fame with Abe Olman and Howie Richmond. For more on Mercer, visit


Craig Carnelia

Carnelia has had four shows produced on Broadway. Working with composer Marvin Hamlisch, he wrote the lyrics for “Sweet Smell of Success,” with book by John Guare and “Imaginary Friends,” with Nora Ephron. Hamlisch and Carnelia received Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations for their score for “Sweet Smell of Success,” and Carnelia received a Drama Desk nomination for his lyrics for “Imaginary Friends.” As both composer and lyricist, Carnelia wrote the score for “Is There Life After High School?” and contributed four songs to Studs Terkel’s “Working” for which he received his first Tony nomination. 

Craig Carnelia
Composer and lyricist Craig Carnelia.

Off-Broadway, he wrote the music and lyrics for “Three Postcards,” with book by Craig Lucas, and contributed to the revue “Diamonds,” directed by Hal Prince. Regional premieres include “The Good War” at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre and “Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief” at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre, both written with playwright-director David H. Bell. Carnelia has won a number of major songwriting awards, including the Johnny Mercer Award, the first annual Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theatre Award and the prestigious Kleban Award.

His best known songs include “Flight,” “What You’d Call a Dream,” “Just a Housewife” and “The Kid Inside.” Carnelia has been on the council of the Dramatists Guild since 1995 and is married to Broadway actress Lisa Brescia. He has two new musicals in development, "Poster Boy,” book by Joe Tracz, which premiered last summer at Williamstown Theatre Festival, and an untitled project with John Weidman, which is being workshopped at Roundabout Theatre Company.

Lari White 

White enjoys a wide-ranging career as an award-winning recording artist, hit songwriter and producer, indie record label owner and actress. Her music has earned three Grammys (“The Apostle” Soundtrack and “Amazing Grace 1 and 2: A Country Tribute”) and RIAA Gold status (“Wishes” for RCA Records). Her most recent studio albums include “Green Eyed Soul,” hailed by the London Times as the best soul album of the year, and “My First Affair,” music from her live show at the Oak Room in New York City. As the first female producer of a male superstar, White made music history producing Toby Keith’s platinum album “White Trash with Money.” 

Lari White
Recording artist, songwriter, producer, record label owner and actress Lari White.

As a songwriter, she’s had cuts by Tammy Wynette, Toby Keith and Lonestar. Her film acting credits include the blockbuster Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away” and “Country Strong,” with Gwynneth Paltrow. She made her critically-acclaimed Broadway debut originating the role of June in “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.” White has sung with the New York, Boston and Pasadena Pops and the Atlanta and Nashville Symphonies. She performs regularly for legendary lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman and with Michael Feinstein. Her latest projects include her production of Shawn Mullin's new album, “My Stupid Heart,” and her new CD, "Piano Bar," a collection of jazzy numbers with pianist Red Young.  Available at

The American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theatre, dance and visual arts. 

Topics: Arts, Evanston, Music
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