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Emerging Songwriters Perform at Northwestern June 24 and 25

Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project features 16 top young writers

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June 23, 2011 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A celebration of acclaimed and emerging songwriters, writing teams and singers is the first of two June 24-25 weekend events that will conclude the sixth annual weeklong Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project, presented by the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University.

The Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project/Songwriters Showcase at 8 p.m. Friday, June 24, at the Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston campus, is a celebration of emerging songwriters featuring original pop, music theatre, folk and country music. Single tickets are $10.

The 2011 songwriter participants chosen from among a competitive pool of applicants are David Dabbon and Tom Bruett, Colleen Dancey and Akiva Romer-Segal, Benjamin Higginbotham, Morgan Karr, Sharon Kenney, Carrie Manolakos, K. Divya Maus, Bradford Proctor, Matt Siffert, Marcus Stevens and Sam Willmott, and Marianna Thielen and Reece Marshburn.

Songwriters spend a week on Northwestern’s Evanston campus in intensive workshops led by three professional master teachers: Tony Award-nominated songwriter Craig Carnelia; Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer Lari White; and acclaimed songwriter Marcy Heisler. The Songwriters Showcase on June 24 features new work written by songwriter participants during the weeklong writing workshop.

These talented young songwriters also will be featured in The Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project/Applause! Applause! A Celebration of Charles Strouse at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive. The star-studded program celebrates the Tony Award-winning talents of Strouse (“Annie,” “Bye Bye Birdie”) and his mentorship of young songwriters in the tradition of the late Johnny Mercer. The program will feature performances from Strouse’s landmark shows by two-time Tony Award-winning performer Christine Ebersole (“Grey Gardens”) as well as performances by master teachers Carnelia, Heisler and White. Strouse will take the stage to share songs and stories from his career, and to accept the 2011 Johnny Mercer Artist of Distinction Award. Single tickets are $40.

Open to the public, both Evanston campus events are part of the Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC) at Northwestern University’s SummerStage 2011. They are presented by The Johnny Mercer Foundation and the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University.

To purchase single or group tickets, phone (847) 491-7282 or visit www.tic.northwestern.edu.

This year’s Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project songwriters include:

David Dabbon, a New York-based music director, conductor, arranger, orchestrator and composer, who recently provided additional orchestrations for the Tony and Grammy nominated Broadway musical “Sondheim on Sondheim.” His writing partner Tom Bruett is a playwright, lyricist and book writer whose work has been produced from coast to coast. For more on both, visit www.dabbonbruett.com.

Colleen Dancey, a Toronto-based composer and performer who has her own pop-rock solo music project and co-writes and performs in the indie-folk band Petty Victories and Israeli-born and Calgary-raised lyricist Akiva Romer-Segal. The writers met in high school and began their songwriting collaboration in 2008. Their debut full-length song cycle, “The Subway Songs,” was independently produced in Toronto in 2010 and featured top Canadian artists. For more, visit www.thecollabos.com.

Benjamin Higginbotham, a 16-year-old keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter, who attends Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, where he studies voice, jazz piano and traditional schoolwork. He was awarded a 2010 Songshop Scholarship to write and record a song with Cary Pierce of the band Jackopierce. For more, visit www.benhigginbothammusic.com.

Morgan Karr, a Nashville singer, songwriter and performer who is making his mark on the New York entertainment scene. In 2009, after graduating from Northwestern University, he joined the Broadway cast of the groundbreaking pop musical “Spring Awakening.” For more, visit www.MorganKarr.com

Sharon Kenney, a New York-based singer, songwriter and composer. Named  “a vibrant musical force” by AwakenMusic, she debuted the album, “Pianocentric” in August 2009. She was selected by Ars Nova to participate in their Festival of All New Talent in Fall 2010. Her second record, “My Name is Sharon,” was released May 16. For more, visit http://sharon-kenny.com/about.

Carrie Manolakos, a New York-based singer and songwriter who blends pop, soul and folk in a style all her own. A vocalist, pianist and guitarist with a band that performs in varied Manhattan venues, Manolakos releases her first album of original material in July. For more, visit www.carriemanolakos.com.

K. Divya Maus, a songwriter from Berlin. A cellist, singer and freshman at the University of Southern California, she identifies herself chiefly as a composer. She is studying for a bachelor’s degree in music with an emphasis on songwriting,

Bradford Proctor, who wrote the music and co-wrote the book and lyrics for “BUNKED!: A New Musical,” which won “Best Overall Production of a Musical” at New York’s 2010 International Fringe Festival. After graduating from Dartmouth College, he interned in the music department of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” where he assisted in the creation of sketch comedy music. For more, visit www.bradfordproctor.com/.

Matt Siffert, born and raised in New York. Siffert studied music and psychology at Carnegie Mellon and was a finalist in Broadcast Music, Inc. Foundation’s 2009 John Lennon Scholarship, a program that recognizes the best and brightest young songwriters.

Alina Smith, born in St. Petersburg, Russia. A pop music and country soul vocalist, composer and lyricist, Smith was voted the first place winner by the TV audience of KTLA Hollywood’s recent Battle of the Bands. She has written a major label single for a Japanese singer and collaborated with hip-hop legend DMC. For more, visit wwwAlinaSmith.net.

Marcus Stevens and Sam Willmott, lyricist and composer respectively of “Yo, Vikings!,” a new musical commissioned by the Upper Darby Summer Stage in Drexel Hill, Pa., for the theatre company’s 2010 season was a finalist for the 2011 Richard Rodgers Award. For more, visit www.marcus-stevens.com/ and http://samwillmott.com/SamWillmott.com.html.

Marianna Thielen sings and writes music for her soulful retro pop band, Marianna and the Baby Vamps. The band’s debut album, “I Don’t Mind,” was featured on KINK 101.9 FM radio in Portland, Ore. Her writing partner, Reece Marshburn, is a versatile pianist, songwriter and music director. For more, visit www.mariannathielen.com and www.reecemarshburn.com/.