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Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project will proceed

Singer songwriter participants and master teachers announced

Despite the cancellation of in-person gatherings because of COVID-19 concerns, The Johnny Mercer Foundation (JMF) and the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University will proceed with plans for the 15th annual Songwriters Project. The week-long program, master classes and workshops will take place online from June 21 to 27.

The Songwriters Project has been a catalyst to the careers of many artists. Among the program alumni are Tony, Oscar and Golden Globe Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land,” “Dear Evan Hansen”). Other alumni have been honored with a Latin Grammy Award, a Fred Ebb Award, a Lucille Lortel Award and 14 individual Jonathan Larson Awards.

More than 180 applicants, between the ages of 18 and 30 years old, applied for the 12 spots in the prestigious program.

The 2020 Songwriters Project participants and duos will include: Nick Butcher and Tom Ling (London); Nono Chen (Ruian, China); Kate Cosentino (Kansas City, Kansas); Calista Garcia (Arlington, Virginia); Joriah Kwame (Kalamazoo, Michigan); Samantha Margret (San Francisco); Ian Miller (New York); Juliette Reilly (Berkeley Heights, New Jersey); Max Runham (Hextable, England); Zach Seals (Baltimore); Devin Weitz and Oliver Labrador (Los Angeles and Miami); and songwriting duo The Gender Gnomes, Rachel Weisbart and Patrick Oberstaedt (Ossining, New York and Cherry Hill, New Jersey).

“Given the virtual format of this year’s program, participants will be able to receive an even greater focus on lyric details,” said Jonathan Brielle, executive vice president of JMF. “We are excited to be able to continue Johnny Mercer’s gift of collaboration during these difficult times.”

The 15 emerging songwriters will spend the week with Tony and Grammy Award-nominated master teachers Stephen Bray, Craig Carnelia, Andrew Lippa and Lindy Robbins. The program is free-of-charge to selected songwriters through the generosity of the Johnny Mercer Foundation.

Master Teacher Bios:

Craig 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 in “Imaginary Friends.”

Andrew Lippa's Andrew Lippa’s Broadway credits include music and lyrics for “Big Fish”, the Tony-nominated music and lyrics for “The Addams Family”, and the music for Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway play “The Farnsworth Invention”. Other musicals include the Drama Desk award winning musical “The Wild Party” (book/music/lyrics); “A Little Princess” (music), and “You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown” (additional music/lyrics and arrangements) among many others. He has received Tony and Grammy nominations and won a shared Emmy for Nickelodeon’s “The Wonder Pets”, the SFGMC Vanguard Award, The Drama Desk Award, and The Outer Critics Circle Award. His hit song “Evil Like Me” appears in “Disney’s Descendants” and was certified gold in 2017.  

Stephen Bray has written and produced 12 top 10 Billboard recordings including Madonna’s hits “Angel,” “Into the Groove,” “Poppa Don’t Preach,” “True Blue” and “Express Yourself.” He also wrote and produced for his 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 BREAKFAST CLUB, Bray composed and produced for various multi-platinum artists, including Gladys Knight, Kylie Minogue and The Jets. Bray’s music has appeared in many films and TV shows, including “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Who’s That Girl,” “Earth Girls Are Easy,” “Peeples,” “Glee,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Scream Queens,” “Despicable Me 3,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” “Pose,” “Juanita” and “Stranger Things.” In 2005, his Broadway debut as composer/lyricist of “The Color Purple” earned him one of the show's 11 Tony nominations. In 2017, “Purple” won a Tony for Best Revival of a musical, and Bray received a Grammy award for producing the Broadway Cast Recording. Currently, he is producing music for MGM’s upcoming Aretha Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson.

Lindy Robbins is a multi-platinum-selling and award-winning songwriter from Los Angeles. She started her career in the New York City cabaret and theater community in the 90s, writing for numerous performers, such as Audra McDonald, Liza Minnelli, Michael Feinstein, Harvey Fierstein, Andrea Marcovicci, Ann Margret and Bruce Vilanch, as well as collaborating with legendary theater composers, including Stephen Schwartz and Adam Guettal. Robbins was a founding member and composer for the celebrated vocal group “The Tonics.” She returned to Los Angeles in 1997 to pursue writing mainstream songs in pop, country, rock, EDM and rhythmic R&B.

About the Johnny Mercer Foundation:

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 our goals including; the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals, Accentuate The Positive Programs (New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Miami), the Musical Theater Program at NJPAC, the Musical Theater Program at the Alliance Theatre (Atlanta), Georgia State University Fellowship Program, the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project with Northwestern University and the Johnny Mercer Archives at Georgia State University. In addition, JMF supports the Braille Institute’s Johnny Mercer Children and Adult Choirs.

American Music Theatre Project

The American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University partners leading artists in music theater with Northwestern’s faculty, staff and students to develop new musicals, bridging the educational and professional worlds through uniquely tailored new work processes. AMTP’s goal is to nourish and invigorate American music theater by supporting writers in their early stages of development, creating new connections between the professional and academic communities, and increasing opportunities for education and training with Northwestern’s theater, music theater and dance programs.

Johnny Mercer

The legendary Johnny Mercer (1909-1976) composed more than 1,400 songs, including “Accentuate the Positive,” “Fools Rush in (Where Angels Fear to Tread),” “Any Place I 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.

Multimedia Downloads


Master Teachers Craig Carnelia, Andrew Lippa, Lindy Robbins and Stephen Bray. Photo by Justin Barbin
Master Teachers Craig Carnelia, Andrew Lippa, Lindy Robbins and Stephen Bray. Photo by Justin Barbin
Jane Bruce and Cheeyang Ng 2019 Songwriters Project Photo by Justin Barbin
Jane Bruce and Cheeyang Ng 2019 Songwriters Project Photo by Justin Barbin