Songbook Academy finals are a feast for the ear and soul

August 2, 2018


Lily Rasmussen – 2018 Songbook Academy Youth Ambassador. Courtesy of The Center for the Performing Arts.  Used with permission.

A highlight of the local performing arts calendar for me each year is the Great American Songbook Foundation’s Songbook Academy summer intensive finals concert which I attended Saturday. It’s always one of the best shows in town. This year’s edition was no exception, as a Lexington, Kentucky, rising college freshman Lily Rasmussen, was crowned Songbook Youth Ambassador.

Singing in front of a mostly older audience which nearly filled the Palladium, the poised and beauteous Rasmussen dazzled the crowd and obviously the judges, with her spectacular voice, singing versions of “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?’” from “Carousel” by Rogers and Hammerstein and “The Man That Got Away,” by Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen, made famous by Judy Garland in “A Star is Born.”

The finals capped a week-long intensive of workshops and professional mentoring, along with 39 fellow singers, by the likes of current Broadway performers Alexander Gemignani (“Carousel”), Fergie L. Philippe (“Hamilton”) and Becca Petersen (“Mean Girls”), as well as TV producer Marc Cherry (“Desperate Housewives”), opera and cabaret star Sylvia McNair, pianist-composer Nat Zegree and actress-singer Mary Lane Haskell.

And like the title of the movie from the latter song she sang suggests, Rasmussen’s singing career will surely ascend. The perks of her winning include performances with Songbook Foundation founder and Academy lead mentor Michael Feinstein at renowned venues, such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and the five-time Grammy nominee’s cabaret clubs in New York and San Francisco.

L-R Lily Rasmussen, Anaïs Reno &, Zoë Stewart  – Courtesy of The Center for the Performing Arts. Used with permission.

Other top-ten winners included Anaïs Reno of New York City, who was awarded the Songbook Inspiration Award, and Zoë Stewart of Mendon, Massachusetts, who received the Songbook Celebration Award. The other finalists this year were Olivia Broadwater of Zionsville, Indiana, Reed Gnepper of Cincinnati, Emma Hackworth of Pittsburgh, Abigail Marotta of Ocoee, Florida, Eevie Perez of San Diego, Johnny Rabe of Naperville, Illinois, and Gabriel Schonman of River Forest, Illinois.

Aside from the finalists singing two songs each during the nearly three-hour program, other highlights of the concert were Feinstein, joined by the Songbook Choir, singing “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” from “Bye Bye Birdie,” Zegree, who has played Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet,” causing joyous commotion as he performed “A Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin, On” in character, 2018 Songbook Youth Ambassador Finn Sagal, who crooned “Time After Time” and “I’ll Be Seeing You, and the poignant “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” sung by the Songbook Choir.

I have attended the Songbook Finals since 2009 when it was first presented by the Songbook Foundation. The reason I look forward to it every year is not only because its highly entertaining, but also because it’s very inspiring—especially within these past few years, at a time when toxicity and divisiveness is flourishing and pitting us against one another. Observing and listening to these fresh-faced, gifted young people, singing songs that hearken back to simpler times, provides me with a respite from all the cynicism and anger that exist in the world today. These emerging artists give me hope for better times through music that has the power to calm and unify.

For more information about the Great American Songbook Foundation and the Songbook Academy, visit

photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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One Comment

  1. Dustin D Hopkins said...

    I’ve always wanted to go to that! I miss it every year.

    August 3, 2018 at 1:14 pm | link to this reply to this

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