Two TN students named NEA 2019 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge Regional Winners

Makai Keur and Julian Watson

From Victoria Hutter, Assistant Director, Press/Public Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts –

The National Endowment for the Arts announced that Makai Keur and Julian Watson from Franklin, TN who recently graduated from Centennial High are among the six 2019 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge Regional Winners for their song, “Charles’ Song.”

Charles Williams is a soldier fighting in the Great Emu War of 1932 and living with post-traumatic stress disorder from World War I. Charles has just found out that Mavis–the woman he loves–has been with his commanding officer and “brother in arms” Major GPW Meredith. The song that begins on a reflective note quickly turns to passion for his beloved then shifts to darker thoughts of revenge. Makai and Julian say that the song’s words, “were written to spotlight themes of love, hate, and brothers.”

The six regional winners— one duo and five individuals—were chosen by review panels of professional theater artists in a blind competition from almost 170 applications submitted by high school students in 40 states. A welcome video of the winners can be found here.

Over the next few weeks, each winner will be paired with a musical theater mentor and music director to form a coaching team that will work directly with the student to hone all parts of their song. The team will meet with their winner both virtually and when the mentor and music director travel to the winner’s hometown for a three-day onsite workshop. 

In October, each winner’s song will be transcribed, performed by Broadway singers and musicians, and recorded as a cast album. As in 2018, Samuel French has generously agreed to publish a songbook containing each of the finalists’ song in their transcribed form.

A partnership with the American Theatre Wing, the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge seeks to cultivate the next generation of musical theater songwriters through mentorships with professional musical theater artists. Program collaborators are Disney Theatrical Productions and Samuel French, Inc., a Concord Theatricals company.

The Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge began as a pilot program in 2016 in three cities (Dallas, TX; Minneapolis, MN, Seattle, WA) before going national in 2017/2018. Playbill was a key partner in developing the pilot program and assisting with the inaugural national competition.