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Songwriters show Trenton youth the power of a song

By Crystal Burns


Trenton native LeAnn Phelan virtually brought together two of her songwriting pals with children at the Trenton LEMAC program to show the youth the power of a song.

Phelan, owner of LP Creative Management in Nashville, hosted Catt Gravitt and Jake Rose last week for songwriting workshops at the building that bears her late father’s name. She kicked off the special program June 8 at the Robert Sidney Phelan Education Center in Trenton, which is home to the Trenton Housing Authority LEMAC program. LEMAC provides afterschool and summer academic help and enrichment opportunities for at-risk youth.

The following day, Gravitt, an award-winning songwriter who has written hits for Kelly Clarkson, Jake Owen, and Natalie Grant, and Rose, an artist, producer, and songwriter who’s had cuts on Meatloaf, Florida George Line, and Keith Urban, joined Phelan at the center via Zoom.

“I have been wanting to do a music program at the Robert Sidney Phelan Education Center since the dedication of the building [in 2013],” Phelan said. “The trick was figuring out how to get my songwriter friends to Trenton over an extended period of time.”

Phelan, whose career in the music business began when she toured with Steve Winwood as a background vocalist/musician in 1988, said since COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic, her business has largely shifted. She is seeing her songwriter clients use Zoom almost exclusively for songwriting sessions.

“That bit of technology made the logistics a piece of cake,” she said.

The bigger motivation in having the songwriting workshop now is the current conversation about racism.

“The message I hear when I listen closely is this: ‘If you’ve moved through the world with any kind of privilege, what can you do to give back to people that haven’t had that luxury?’ Phelan said. “This is the time to take action and use the gifts unique to you to show people they matter. This music program hopefully gives kids an opportunity to be exposed to music in a new way and gives them a chance to express their feelings through songwriting.”

First, Phelan helped the children get in touch with their creativity, learning that songs come from the heart. At the end of class, Phelan encouraged each student to write a song idea. Phelan shared those ideas with Gravitt and Rose.

The next day, Gravitt and Rose joined Phelan and the LEMAC children on Zoom, where the professional songwriters worked with the kids on beats, phrasing, and rhyme schemes.

Phelan said that during Monday’s session, she saw one child’s creativity take root.

“I could just see him light up,” she said. “He just had this twinkle in his eye.”

Michael Dunlap’s song idea would also catch the attention of Gravitt and Rose, who chose “Ice Cream Remix” as the LEMAC single.

“We loved the idea of ice cream,” Gravitt told the children via Zoom.

All of the kids – and the teachers – helped Gravitt and Rose expand on Dunlap’s idea to create a song that celebrates more than ice cream.

“It sounds easy, but trust me, only professionals can take lyrics and make them sound like they fit perfectly in a piece of music while getting a bigger message across,” Phelan said:

I’m like ice cream

Vanilla, chocolate, mocha

Know what I mean

A million different flavors

With a million different names

We’re all a little different

But we’re all the same

Ice cream

Ice cream

You and me

You know

We’re like ice cream.

On Thursday, Phelan, who had returned to Nashville, Gravitt and Rose had another Zoom session with the children to finalize “Ice Cream Remix.” The kids got an opportunity to add their vocals to the track and even their teacher Charlotte Doaks added a special instrument to the backing track, her coach’s whistle.

“It’s debatable who had more fun, the adults or the kids,” Phelan said.

The song will be available soon for all to hear, and the Gazette will publish the details as soon as they’re available. You can also follow Jake Rose on Twitter and Instagram @JakeRoseMusic for more information.

Phelan sends her thanks to everyone involved with the LEMAC program, the Robert Sidney Phelan Education Center, Rhonda Casey, Charlotte Doaks, and Doug Lockard.

“I especially want to thank Catt Gravitt and Jake Rose and all the talented kids who participated in the songwriting program,” she said. “You guys did a great job and really brought a lot of heart to the song.”

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