Showcasing student talent to inspire democratic engagement


Five student acts will vie for prizes at a free, festival-style concert at Hill Auditorium on Jan. 21 in a performance that celebrates the grand finale of the Songs for Democracy competition.

The competition invited students to compose original musical works to inspire the participation that a functioning and thriving democracy requires. Five acts have been selected as finalists and will perform live for a $3,000 prize. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

Songs for Democracy is a collaboration among U-M’s Democracy & Debate initiative, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and the recording studios of the James and Ann Duderstadt Center.

The student acts will work with Detroit artist and performer Mike Ellison, the event’s emcee, and Ann Delisi of Detroit, who is producing the concert. The evening will be opened by Angela Harrelson, author of “Lift Your Voice: How My Nephew George Floyd’s Murder Changed the World.” Harrelson is visiting U-M for a Masterclass in Activism at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The Michigan Fanfare Band will kick off the music, and the competitors will all perform with Ellison to close the show.

“Music and song especially have a vital role in our democracy, serving to amplify voices of protest and debate throughout American history. We wanted to offer U-M students the opportunity to contribute to this tradition of democratic engagement,” said Mark Clague, professor of music and associate dean for collaborations and partnerships at SMTD.

“The quality of the entries was astonishing. Students from across campus really rose to the challenge,” said Clague, who also is the author of “O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”

The five student finalists who will perform solo or in a group Jan. 21 are:

  • Ben Henchman.
  • Annabella Paolucci, Isabel Gil and Ieva Suarantas.
  • The DR’s Laboratory — Cortez Hill, Caleb Middleton and Simone Clotile.
  • Joe Shangraw, Lucy Greenman and Jack Harris.
  • Anne-Marie Atanga.

The 13 groups that made it through the initial review will get a chance to record their songs in the Duderstadt Center’s record studios. The recordings will be compiled into a “Songs for Democracy” Spotify playlist.

“We have student musicians who have never experienced the work undertaken to produce a studio recording,” said Dave Greenspan, managing producer of the Digital Media Commons Studios at the Duderstadt Center. “What an excellent learning opportunity for students, one that helps them share their art for all to see and hear.”

The competition speaks to the breadth of U-M’s Democracy & Debate initiative.

“From the outset, Democracy & Debate has sought to underscore the many different ways in which democratic engagement can manifest,” said Jenna Bednar, professor of public policy at the Ford School and professor of political science at LSA, and faculty adviser for Democracy & Debate. “We are excited to see this form of engagement play out at Hill.”


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