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Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project adds Grammy nominee

Stephen Bray joins slate of master teachers at annual summer event

Stephen Bray
Stephen Bray
  • Co-writer of Broadway’s ‘The Color Purple,’ earned a Tony nomination
  • Produced a dozen top 10 Billboard songs for Madonna, Gladys Knight and others
  • Applications from songwriters and songwriting teams are due Feb. 24

EVANSTON - Tony- and Grammy-nominated songwriter Stephen Bray will be the third and final master teacher for the 12th annual Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project hosted by the Johnny Mercer Foundation and the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University.

Bray joins returning master teachers Craig Carnelia and Lari White to lead the weeklong songwriting program of master classes and workshops for emerging songwriters and writing teams that will take place June 18 to 24, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

Each year the Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project has chosen 12 participants from a pool of more than 100 applicants, carrying on the legacy of legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer. Participants include the nation’s most promising emerging songwriters in musical theatre, country, Latin, rock and contemporary pop music.

The program is accepting applications now through Friday, Feb. 24 from aspiring young songwriters and songwriting teams between the ages of 18 and 30 working in any popular music style.The application, guidelines and more information is available at

Sponsored by the Johnny Mercer Foundation, participation is free of charge for selected songwriters, who are housed on Northwestern’s Evanston campus and receive a stipend for travel expenses and meals.

The Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project has been a catalyst to the careers of many artists. Past participants include 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 Jennifer Peña.

Stephen Bray, Detroit-born songwriter, drummer and record producer, wrote and produced 12 top 10 Billboard recordings, including Madonna’s hits “Angel,” “Into the Groove,” “Poppa Don’t Preach,” “True Blue” and “Express Yourself.” During that time, he also wrote and produced music for the New York band The Breakfast Club, earning a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 1987 and a top 10 single “Right On Track.” While continuing his work with the band, Bray composed and produced for various multi-platinum artists, including Gladys Knight, Kylie Minogue and The Jets. Bray made his Broadway debut in 2005 as composer and lyricist for the Broadway version of the Alice Walker book, “The Color Purple.” He was nominated for a Tony Award for his work on the show. Bray owns and operates Saturn Sound recording studios and the Soultone Records record label.

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.

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 Mercer’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, Georgia State University Fellowship Program, Florida International University Fellowship Program, the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project with Northwestern University and the Johnny Mercer Archives at Georgia State University. In addition, JMF also supports various charitable causes, including University of California, Los Angeles’ 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 Television’s Cinema Series.

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 also was the co-founder and president of Capitol Records and established the Songwriters Hall of Fame with Abe Olman and Howie Richmond.

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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