The National Endowment for the Arts with the American Theatre Wing announced today the winners of the 2021 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge. Now in its fifth year, the Songwriting Challenge seeks to cultivate the next generation of musical theater songwriters from among the country’s high school students through mentorships with professional musical theater artists. Program collaborators include: Concord Theatricals, Disney Theatrical Productions, iHeartRadio Broadway, and the NMPA S.O.N.G.S. (Supporting Our Next Generation of Songwriters) Foundation.
As in 2020, the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Theatre Wing are able to offer this opportunity to 13 students: 12 individual songwriters and one two-person songwriting team. Winners’ hometowns range from Maple Valley, Washington to Bethel, Connecticut and from Lincoln, Nebraska to Jackson, Mississippi. Click here for bios and song summaries from each of the winners.
“The winners in this fifth anniversary year represent the energizing diversity and creative potential of our country,” said NEA Acting Chairman Ann Eilers. “These young people will have a rare opportunity to develop their original song with an extraordinary group of mentors, music directors, musicians, and vocalists. Whether or not the winners take up songwriting professionally, their experience in the program will help them develop as artists and as adults.”
“As we build back a better, more inclusive American theatre, it’s important to continue nurturing young talent and to bring them to a supportive network where they’re set up to succeed”, said American Theatre Wing President & CEO Heather Hitchens. “The winners’ songs and their myriad styles, sounds, and genres provide just a small sample of the creative, diverse perspectives this upcoming generation of songwriters possess. I look forward to seeing these winners develop as artists and create work that challenges the way society thinks.”
The Songwriting Challenge provides each winner with a coaching team—a mentor and a music director—to hone an original song into a Broadway-ready composition. Each song is then recorded by Broadway musicians and vocalists in New York City, made available on streaming music platforms, and compiled into a songbook by Concord Theatricals. The mentoring sessions take place remotely while the recording sessions will be a combination of remote and in-person.
Almost 150 applications were submitted by high-school students in 32 states. The winners were selected by review panels of professional theater artists in a blind competition. The next phase is that the students will be paired with a mentor and music director to begin work in October. Through its different components, the Challenge offers an immersive arts education experience for each student winner, a chance for them to develop their artistic talents and gain insight into the world of professional musical theater and its myriad forms.
To watch performances from the 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2020 programs, go to arts.gov/songwriting. To join the conversation on social media, use #IWriteMusicals.