Cathy Bernard knows “it’s hard to get recognized as a songwriter.” And that is why the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District Board of Directors president established the Bernard/Ebb Songwriting Awards.
“I know my uncle struggled for years before being acknowledged for his talent,” she said, referring to lyricist Fred Ebb, who along with composer John Kander, created Broadway mega-hits like “Cabaret” and “Chicago” as well as iconic songs such as “New York, New York.”
“There is a lot of musical talent in the D.C. area and I wanted to give local musicians an opportunity,” said Bernard, who also serves on the boards of Signature Theatre, Round House Theatre, Imagination Stage and Strathmore. “I am passionate about supporting the arts in the community.”
Originally from New York City, Bernard came to the metropolitan area to attend George Washington University. Until recently, she was president of a property management and investment firm.
The third annual adjudicated competition will award a $10,000 grand prize to one songwriter and a $2,500 prize to a songwriter younger than 18. Entries from permanent, full-time residents of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia must be received by Friday, Nov. 4. During the last two years, 500 applications from regional songwriters were submitted.
The judges, Bernard said, score entries on composition, lyrics, originality and melody/harmony. Bernard’s team at the Bethesda A&E District, she said, “identifies judges who are a good fit for the competition. They seek out regional music professionals including singer-songwriters, venue operators, booking agents and music academics (who) not only have careers in music but are also familiar with the talent in our region.” These individuals choose the semifinalists.
For the second round, the jurors are “music industry professionals who have respected and storied backgrounds in songwriting.” This year, they are Nashville-based songwriter Steve Bogard; songwriter Scarlet Keys, a professor in Berklee College of Music’s Songwriting Department, and musical theater lyricist Stacey Luftig, who won the 2015 Fred Ebb Award for excellence in musical theater songwriting.
Finalists will perform two of their original songs for a live audience on Friday, March 3, at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club (soon to be Bethesda LIVE). Award winners will be announced at the close of the program.
Bernard advises competitors to “keep trying, and be persistent. Continue to pursue your dreams,” and to view the awards “as an opportunity to put their best, most original songwriting forward.” Those who do not win this time, she added, “should not be discouraged …They should keep sharing their music with the world and apply again the following year. We invite different judges each year; who knows what the next year’s judges may hear in their writing?”
Winner of the first grand prize in 2015, Owen Danoff, the son of Grammy award-winning songwriter Bill Danoff, began playing piano at age 5, and wrote his first song at 15, when he “fell in love with songwriting and performing.” By age 17, he decided to attend Berklee College of Music and pursue a career in music; his degree is in film scoring.
Now 26, he has “been seriously pursuing a career as an artist and songwriter for six years.” He has performed at the Birchmere, the Kennedy Center and the 9:30 Club and was an artist in resident at Strathmore’s Institute for Artistic and Professional Development in 2012-13. He won three Washington Area Music Awards (Wammies) for his debut album “Twelve Stories” in 2014. For his 2015 single, “No Such Thing (As You and Me),” American Songwriter awarded him first place in its lyric contest.
Danoff was a contestant on season 10 of NBC’s “The Voice,” reaching the Top 11 on Adam Levine’s team, and his latest EP, “Love on Your Side,” was released Sept. 23. He will perform at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at The Mansion at Strathmore.
About the Bernard/Ebb prize, Danoff said, “Not only was it an honor to be chosen and to have the work I’d been putting into my music be validated and rewarded, but the financial component also helped me afford to work on my music fulltime. It allowed me extra freedom to pursue what I love, and for that, I could not be more grateful.”
Justin Jones, the 2016 grand prize winner, started playing guitar at age 7 or 8, writing songs at 14, and performing at open mic nights in bars around Charlottesville, Va., during his early teens. Now 37, he is “a contractor by day, musician by weekend night.” The award, said Jones, “paid for me to release a new album.” The album, which came out in August, is called “Outgrown.”
In his 10-year-plus career as a singer-songwriter as well as a player of piano, guitar and harmonica, Jones has made six albums, done two U.S. tours and played at several music festivals. He said that he “likes to think that he writes beautiful songs about death, sad songs about love, and hopeful songs about life.”
Applicants for the 2017 Bernard/Ebb Songwriting Awards must submit three original songs with lyrics, of any genre, no longer than 4.5 minutes each. Entries must be received by Friday, Nov. 4. Additional information can be found at www.bethesda.org/bethesda/bernard-ebb-songwriting-awards-application. Tickets to the third annual concert will be available in January; visit www.bethesda.org or call 301-215-6660.