Alumni are ‘Messengers’ with Grammy songwriting win (+VIDEO)

One song carried the message of Grammy gold for a pair of former MTSU students Sunday night, Feb. 8.

MTSU alumni Lecrae Moore and Torrance Esmond, left and second from left, accept the Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song Grammy for "Messengers" Sunday night in Los Angeles with co-writers Ran Jackson of The Daylights, Joseph Prielozny, Kenneth Chris Mackey and Ricky Jackson of The Daylights and presenter Gloria Gaynor. (photo courtesy of Grammy.com)

MTSU alumni Lecrae Moore and Torrance Esmond, left and second from left, accept the Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song Grammy for “Messengers” Sunday night in Los Angeles with co-writers Ran Jackson of The Daylights, Joseph Prielozny, Kenneth Chris Mackey and Ricky Jackson of The Daylights. Presenter Gloria Gaynor is at far right; co-writers Joel and Luke Smallbone are not shown. (photo courtesy of Grammy.com)

“Messengers,” co-written by 2003 music business graduate Torrance Esmond and former student Lecrae Moore for Moore’s latest album, won the award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song during the 57th annual Grammy Award ceremonies at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The win was the second career Grammy for Moore, who’s known professionally by his first name. “Messengers,” which featured fellow Christian artists For God & Country, is part of Moore’s album “Anomaly.”

He won the Best Gospel Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards for his 2012 release “Gravity” and also was a co-writer of another of this year’s Best Gospel Performance/Song nominees, “Help” by Erica Campbell, on which he was a featured artist.

Moore also was nominated for a Best Rap Performance Grammy this year for “All I Need is You,” another cut from the “Anomaly” CD.

“Love and respect to everybody out here because this a celebration of gifts, and … you can’t celebrate gifts without celebrating the giver of all gifts,” Moore said Sunday night while accepting the award. “I want to celebrate Jesus for gifting us all with the gift of love and sacrifice.”

Grammy 2015 logo webHe also joked about the number of people on stage to accept the Grammy as he and Esmond stood with four of their other six co-writers. “It’s a basketball team!” Moore said.

Moore attended MTSU in 2000 and 2001, majoring in electronic media communication. A rapper, songwriter, record producer and actor, he also is the president, co-owner and co-founder of the independent record label Reach Records and co-founder and president of the nonprofit ReachLife Ministries.

He’s so far released seven solo studio albums, including “Anomaly,” which was the first to chart simultaneously atop Billboard’s Top 200 and gospel listings. Moore has been nominated multiple times as Artist of the Year at the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards.

Moore’s 2012 album, “Gravity,” debuted at No. 1 on iTunes. His 2013 Grammy win was the first in that category for a Christian hip-hop artist.

Esmond also was a co-writer on a second album cut on “Anomaly” and co-wrote nearly half the songs on “Gravity.” He served as executive producer on Moore’s 2013 “Church Clothes, Vol. 2″ release, was a co-writer on albums by Andy Mineo and Derek Minor and contributed to Keyshia Cole’s 2008 Best Contemporary R&B Album Grammy nominee, “Just Like You.”

Torrance "Street Symphony" Esmond

Torrance Esmond

Lecrae Moore

Lecrae Moore

Esmond, who’s known professionally as “Street Symphony,” was succinct in his celebration, tweeting “Thankful” with a photo of himself and his colleagues backstage after accepting the award.

“I have to thank Lecrae for the opportunity to work on the album,” Esmond said in a brief post-award interview. “Thank you to Reach Records for allowing us to have the opportunity, and thanks to the original ‘Messenger’ as well.”

The other songwriters included Ran and Ricky Jackson of The Daylights, Kenneth Chris Mackey, Joseph Prielozny and For King & Country’s Joel and Luke Smallbone.

Gloria Gaynor, beloved disco diva and a 1979 Grammy winner for the classic “I Will Survive,” presented the Grammy to the men in the pre-televised ceremony. Gaynor also was a nominee this year for Best Spoken Word Album for the audio version of her book “We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration and the Power of Song.”

You can watch their acceptance appearance in the video below.


MTSU alumnus Luke Laird and former student Jaren Johnston were nominated for Grammys in the Best Country Song category — Laird for co-writing both Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids” and Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown” and Johnston as a co-writer on “Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s,” a cut by Tim McGraw that features Faith Hill.

Luke Laird

Luke Laird

Jaren Johnston

Jaren Johnston

Music icon Glen Campbell won the Best Country Song Grammy — the sixth of his more than six-decade career — as co-writer of “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”

The chart-topping Laird, who won the Grammy for Best Country Album in January 2014 for co-producing Kasey Musgraves’ “Same Trailer, Different Park,” also co-wrote a second song on Church’s Best Country Album Grammy nominee “The Outsiders” and an album cut on Miranda Lambert’s Grammy-winning “Platinum.”

Laird earned his MTSU music business degree in 2001 and has had more than 14 No. 1 singles since he signed his first publishing deal in 2002.

Johnston attended MTSU in 2000 and studied percussion. A singer and guitarist for The Cadillac Three and former front man for American Bang, Johnston also played, sang and co-wrote two songs on Dierks Bentley’s Best Country Album nominee “Riser.”

His “You Gonna Fly” was a No. 1 hit for Keith Urban. He’s also written for Chesney, McGraw, Meatloaf and Sara Evans.

Almost 20 MTSU alumni or former students and faculty from around the university have been nominated for Grammy Awards in the last five years. Seven have won Grammys so far, including some repeat recipients, in categories from classical to gospel to bluegrass.

You can read about more MTSU adventures during Grammy week here and here.

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)

MTSU honors alumna, Nashville Grammy chief Warwick, at L.A. event

LOS ANGELES — MTSU honored Alicia Warwick, executive director of The Recording Academy’s Nashville chapter, at a Feb. 7 event in downtown Los Angeles as part of the university’s second annual outreach during the Grammy Awards.

MTSU alum Pete Fisher (left), general manager of the Grand Old Opry, joins Erika Nichols, general manager of Nashville's Bluebird CafŽ (second from left) and Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication (right), in congratulating MTSU alumna Alicia Warwick, executive director of The Recording Academy's Nashville chapter (second from right), at a Saturday, Feb. 7, brunch in Warwick's honor sponsored by MTSU in downtown Los Angeles before the Grammy awards. (MTSU photos by Andrew Oppmann)

MTSU alumnus Pete Fisher, left, general manager of the Grand Old Opry, joins Erika Nichols, general manager of Nashville’s Bluebird CafeŽ, second from left, and Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication to congratulate MTSU alumna Alicia Warwick, executive director of The Recording Academy’s Nashville chapter, at a Feb. 7 brunch in Warwick’s honor. The event was sponsored by MTSU in downtown Los Angeles before the Grammy awards. (MTSU photos by Andrew Oppmann)

About 50 recording industry executives, artists and university alumni, students and supporters attended a brunch on the rooftop of The Standard hotel to recognize Warwick, a 1999 graduate of MTSU’s Recording Industry program. She was named to the chapter’s top job last year.

Among those in attendance were MTSU alumni Pete Fisher, general manager of the Grand Old Opry, and Torrance “Street Symphony” Esmond, who won a Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song Grammy as a co-writer of “Messengers” by popular Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore, who also attended MTSU.

Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication, said Warwick’s colleagues from The Recording Academy who attended the brunch all sang her praises.

“I’ve talked to her colleagues here and they all said from the moment that they met her, they all recognized her leadership, her passion and commitment,” Paulson said.

“We (at MTSU) have loved watching her career blossom. We are so proud, and we are delighted to honor her today.”

Warwick said she was moved by the tribute from her alma mater on the eve of the industry’s biggest night, the 57th annual Grammy Awards.

“I transferred to MTSU my junior year and it changed my life,” she said. “The friendships I made, the relationships and internships. Some of my favorite mentors are here today.

“(MTSU) is such a blessing and such an amazing university. It’s so exciting (that) I kind of have to pinch myself.”

The Warwick brunch was among several activities that MTSU put forward as part of the Grammy week of festivities.

On Feb. 5 and 6, six students from the Department of Recording Industry volunteered in various capacities during the 17th annual Grammy Foundation Legacy Concert.

Grammy 2015 logo webLater in the evening Feb. 7, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee held a meet-and-greet session with Southern California alumni. On Sunday, MTSU co-sponsored a pre-Grammys event with Leadership Music, a training program for industry executives.

The students in Los Angeles for the Grammys — seniors James Belt, Eryn Green, Quentin Lee, April Manuel, Taylor Thompson and Keagan Scribner — were under the direction of assistant professor Stacy Merida. They attended the Feb. 7 brunch and mixed and mingled with industry pros.

Belt called the week “a monumental revelation,” adding it was an “honor to meet and work with individuals in the industry.”

Warwick said the hands-on experiences offered through the leadership of recording industry chairwoman Beverly Keel underscores the relevance of MTSU’s program.

“I’m so excited for you guys,” Warwick told the students. “You are in good hands.”

You can read about MTSU’s Grammy winners and nominees here and about more special Grammy events here.

— Andrew Oppmann (andrew.oppmann@mtsu.edu)

MTSU alum Torrance "Street Symphony" Esmond (left), nominated for a Grammy this year for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song/Performance, with MTSU alumna Alicia Warwick, executive director of The Recording Academy's Nashville chapter, at a Saturday, Feb. 7, brunch in Warwick's honor sponsored by MTSU in downtown Los Angeles before Sunday's Grammy awards.

MTSU alumnus Torrance “Street Symphony” Esmond, left, co-winner of the Best Contemporary Christian Music Song/Performance Grammy, poses with MTSU alumna Alicia Warwick, executive director of The Recording Academy’s Nashville chapter, at a Feb. 7 brunch in Warwick’s honor sponsored by MTSU.

Latest MTSU Magazine spotlights innovation in College of Mass Comm

The winter 2015 edition of MTSU Magazine profiles, arguably, MTSU’s most recognizable college — the College of Mass Communication — at a time when its multifaceted and innovative media offerings are coming of age.

Mass Comm comprises a Department of Recording Industry that’s one of the best in the country, a Department of Electronic Media Communication whose students and state-of-the-art facilities have attracted national recognition, and a tradition-rich School of Journalism that houses the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.

Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication, is shown on the cover of the January 2015 edition of MTSU Magazine. (Courtesy of MTSU Creative and Visual Services)

Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication, is shown on the cover of the January 2015 edition of MTSU Magazine. (Courtesy of MTSU Creative and Visual Services)

For Mass Comm to fulfill its potential, though, new dean Ken Paulson, who was hired in 2013, and who was on the team of young editors that launched USA Today in the 1980s, knew the College also needed retooling.

“All traditional media have been buffeted by digital technology, and that in turn has led to cutbacks and job losses,” Paulson says in the article. “But there will always be news. There will always be music. And film. And commercial art. And communication. Our challenge is to prepare our students for the new era of opportunities.”

Preparing students to succeed despite those realities isn’t just about having tech-savvy faculty and cutting-edge tools, Paulson says. It’s about reinforcing traditional communication skills (research, writing, ethics and critical thinking) while breaking down traditional academic barriers, thinking beyond traditional media platforms, and finding nontraditional ways to communicate.

“It’s not enough for us to just teach journalism, media, and production skills,” Paulson says. “We need to anticipate the future and help reinvent these industries.”

The article details efforts underway to make the college as contemporary, innovative and prominent as possible. That includes a strategic shift that will meld the college’s two aforementioned journalism programs — the School of Journalism’s traditional program, for print, and the Department of Electronic Media Communication’s multimedia program for practically everything else — into a single, vibrant, multiplatform program poised for roll out in the fall of 2015.

From a curriculum perspective, it’s a savvy shift in approach by the college that better reflects the media industry students will enter after graduation.

Dr. Dwight Brooks

Dr. Dwight Brooks

Dwight Brooks, director of the School of Journalism, says in the article that there will always be a need for trained journalists in a democracy.

“But we’ve got to prepare our students for the careers that are out there,” he says. “And they all involve being able to shoot video and write for the Internet, in addition to the traditional skills of reporting and writing. That’s the tricky thing: balancing.”

In addition, Paulson plans to expand the role of the Mass Comm’s nationally recognized Center for Innovation in Media as “a laboratory for change, anticipating where the media are going and how we can ensure that our students get there ahead of it.”

Other articles in the new edition of the magazine include:

  • a photo essay of MTSU’s new, $147-million Science Building, which opened for instruction late last year;
  • the story of how biology professor Dr. Ryan Otter found truth in the ashes of Tennessee’s worst environmental disaster;
  • a profile of MTSU professor and folklorist Patricia Gaitely, who studies the widely misunderstood Appalachian tradition of snake handling in churches;
  • a look at two Honors student-athletes who excel on the field and in the classroom; and
  • an alphabetical list of 26 ways MTSU proves it is committed to student success.

Readers may also download MTSU Magazine free for their iPads and Android devices. The MTSU Mag app, available in the iTunes store and now at Google Play, includes special multimedia content built into every issue that’s not available in the print editions.

Printed copies of MTSU Magazine are distributed twice annually to more than 105,000 alumni readers. The publication also is distributed to interested community members, including state lawmakers and members of the Tennessee Board of Regents.

MTSU Magazine also is available online at www.mtsumagazine.com.

— Drew Ruble (drew.ruble@mtsu.edu)

MTSU design alumni come home for new Todd Art Gallery exhibit

MTSU’s Todd Art Gallery is celebrating 40 years of educating professional designers with its new exhibit, “Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads,” open through Thursday, Feb. 12.

This charcoal and oil on canvas by MTSU design alumnus Michelle Fizer, "Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Optimism," is part of a new exhibit, "Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads," at the Todd Art Gallery Jan. 22- Feb. 12.

This charcoal and oil on canvas by MTSU design alumnus Michelle Fizer, “Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Optimism,” is part of a new exhibit, “Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads,” at the Todd Art Gallery through Feb. 12.

The exhibit is sponsored by MTSU Arts and features works by 32 MTSU art alumni now living from Connecticut to California.

Todd Art Gallery Director Eric Snyder said the exhibit is, “in a sense, a homecoming, as well as a first of its kind, acknowledging the important contribution of the study of graphic design and its alumni to the art program at MTSU.”

MTSU arts logoAlumni were asked to submit work showcasing their current endeavors rather than produce something especially for ”Tracking Characters.”

If they considered submitting work outside graphic design, Snyder said, all the better, because that would “highlight the fact that many work across media and are artists in more than just one sense.”

Cathy J. Cobb-Walgren, MTSU’s first commercial art graduate, was one of the first to respond to the Department of Art’s call for submissions. Now a teacher at Georgia State University, the May 1975 alumna’s first job out of school was for Gresham and Smith Architects.

The exhibit includes works from art alumni Aaron Rayburn, Abigail Atkins, Austin Hale, Ben Stewart, Brennan Scott, Cal Morton, Chip Payne, Chuck Stephens, Daniel Brown, Danielle Smith, Davion Baxter, Debra Naeve, Deena Cruz, Devin Warren, Ethan Farmer, Grant Cooley, Jenna Russell, Katie Clagg, Kelsey Greer, Kevin Tucker, Kyle Jones, Kyle Scudder, Lauren Wood, Louis LaPrad, Melissa Grabiel, Micah Loyed, Michelle Fizer, Neal Miles, Sean Hood, Shaun MacDavid, Stephanie Cobb and Suze Morton.

All Todd Art Gallery exhibits and receptions are free and open to the public. The Todd Gallery is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is closed on weekends and state and university holidays.

For more information about MTSU Arts, which presents a full slate of art, theatre and music offerings at the university each year, visit www.mtsuarts.com.

For more information, including parking and directions, contact Snyder at 615-898-5653 or eric.snyder@mtsu.edu or visit www.mtsu.edu/art. You also can find a campus parking map at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParking14-15.

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)

MTSU design alumnus Kyle Jones, "Space Cadet" is part of the "Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads" exhibit at the Todd Art Gallery Jan. 22- Feb. 12.

MTSU design alumnus Kyle Jones’ “Space Cadet” is part of the “Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads” exhibit at the Todd Art Gallery through Feb. 12.

This image by MTSU design alumnus Kevin Tucker for the pilot episode of a TV show, "How Come," is part of a new exhibit, "Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads," at the Todd Art Gallery Jan. 22- Feb. 12.

This image by MTSU design alumnus Kevin Tucker for the pilot episode of a TV show, “How Come,” is part of “Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads” at the Todd Art Gallery through Feb. 12.

MTSU design alumnus and Creative and Visual Services employee Micah Loyed's portion of the university's "#TRUE" athletics campaign is part of a new exhibit, "Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads," at the Todd Art Gallery Jan. 22- Feb. 12.

MTSU design alumnus and Creative and Visual Services employee Micah Loyed’s poster for the university’s “#TRUE” athletics campaign is part of a new exhibit, “Tracking Characters: Connecting 40 Years of Design Grads,” at the Todd Art Gallery through Feb. 12.


Nashville entrepreneur hall of fame inducts pair of MTSU alumni

The Nashville Entrepreneur Center has honored two Middle Tennessee State University alumni with induction into its hall of fame.

Joey Jacobs

Joey Jacobs

Darrell Freeman

Darrell Freeman

Darrell Freeman (’87) and Joey Jacobs (’75) made up two of the three recent inductees, as reported by The Nashville Post in December. The publication published profiles of the latest class that can be found here.

In its online story, The Post applauded the Entrepreneur Center, saying it “has quickly established itself as a place for visionary businesspeople and companies — and for its hall of fame recognizing local entrepreneurs.”

Freeman is founder and executive chairman of Zycron Inc., a Nashville-based company that helps hospitals manage information technology. It began in an MTSU dormitory room. Freeman is also a co-founder of Williamson County-based Reliant Bank as well as co-founder and chairman of Pinnacle Construction Partners.

MT alumni logo webFreeman has a bachelor’s degree in computer technology and master’s degree in industrial sciences from MTSU. He was the 2002 MTSU Young Alumni Achievement Award recipient and in 2012 was named by Gov. Bill Haslam to represent the 7th Congressional District on the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Jacobs is chairman and CEO of Acadia Healthcare, a rapidly growing behavioral health company based in Franklin, Tenn. Jacobs, who received his B.S. in accounting from MTSU, was awarded the Jennings A. Jones Champion of Free Enterprise Award in 2013.

Before joining Acadia, Jacobs cofounded Psychiatric Solutions Inc. and served as its chairman, president and CEO from April 1997 until November 2010. Before that, Jacobs served for 21 years in various roles with Hospital Corporation of America in Nashville, most recently as president of the Tennessee Division.

— Jimmy Hart (jimmy.hart@mtsu.edu)

5 MTSU alumni make appearances on Top 40 country radio charts

Middle Tennessee State University’s strong influence within country music was on display as five former MTSU students claimed spots on national Top 40 country music radio charts.

Clockwise, from top left, former MTSU students Eric Paslay, Chris Young, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, Brett Eldredge and Sam Hunt were all recently represented on national country music charts for radio airplay.

Clockwise, from top left, former MTSU students Eric Paslay, Chris Young, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, Brett Eldredge and Sam Hunt all are recently represented on national country music charts for radio airplay.

Former students Sam Hunt, Brett Eldredge, Chris Young and Eric Paslay can be found as solo artists on the Billboard and Mediabase Top 40 country airplay charts, while Hillary Scott continues to enjoy chart recognition as a member of Grammy-winning group Lady Antebellum.

By ranking order, Hunt’s “Leave the Night On”, Lady Antebellum’s “Freestyle”, Eldredge’s “Mean to Me”, Young’s “Lonely Eyes” and Paslay’s “She Don’t Love You” all made the chart for the week ending Nov. 16. All attended MTSU before launching their music careers.

“This is an exciting time for our students and faculty as we see the success of our former students in so many areas,” said Beverly Keel, chair of the MTSU Department of Recording Industry.

“To see five former students on the country radio chart is gratifying and thrilling. I can remember seeing Hillary Scott at the campus grill, and now she is a superstar and inspiring a generation of college students with her singing, songwriting and grace.”

The Department of Recording Industry’s program part is recognized among the top music business programs internationally, recently named to The Hollywood Reporter magazine’s “Top 25 Music Schools 2014.” The program also was recently named by Billboard as one of its Top 5 schools to study music internationally.

Beverly Keel

Beverly Keel

Recording industry undergrad majors in the College of Mass Communication at MTSU can focus on audio production, commercial songwriting or music business. A Master of Fine Arts degree in recording arts and technologies prepares MTSU graduate students for advanced work in audio production, recording and integrated electronic media.

Such an in-depth program has produced alumni who’ve found success not only in front of the mic but also throughout the many facets of the music industry.

“Of course, we also continually celebrate the success of other alumni who are more behind-the-scenes, such as Michael Knox, who produces Jason Aldean, and hit songwriter Luke Laird, who also produces Kacey Musgraves,” Keel said.

“We are so grateful to our many alumni, such as Eric Paslay and Michael Knox, who are giving of their time to help MTSU students.”

Knox gave a guest lecture to students about his industry experiences earlier this month, while Paslay will perform next month in Nashville as part of the MTSU Songwriting Series to benefit the recording industry program.

“As the accolades continue to roll in for our program, we strive to do our best to prepare the next generation of music industry leaders and creators,” Keel said.

For more information about MTSU’s recording industry program, visit http://recordingindustry.mtsu.edu.

— Jimmy Hart (jimmy.hart@mtsu.edu)

Click on the image below to see where the songs by the MTSU alumni ranked on the Mediabase chart. 

Click to see a full sized version of the chart.

Click to see a full sized version of the chart.

MTSU iMagazine features homecoming, Science Building, more

From the opening of a $147-million Science Building to a look at one MTSU Center’s work to untangle the mystery of dyslexia, the newest, tablet-only, mini-version of MTSU Magazine covers a broad swath of topics for the university’s growing web and app audiences to enjoy.MTSU iMagazine cover_Nov2014-web

Available through the MTSU Magazine app, the electronic-only version includes several stories with multimedia content that aren’t available in print. The app is available in the iTunes store and at Google Play.

The latest mini-edition of MTSU Magazine includes:

  • A visual journey inside MTSU’s new $147 million Science Building, now open for instruction, which is sure to elevate the university’s science and research efforts to the next level.
  • A glimpse of the recent Homecoming weekend that was fantastic, including the parades, a football game, and visiting alums.
  • An introduction to MTSU’s six newest Distinguished Alumni.
  • An exploration of how the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia at MTSU is working to unravel the mystery of this common reading disorder.
  • An article detailing one MTSU Honors student’s research on the disappearance of bees in Middle Tennessee.

The content included in the mini-magazine also is available online at www.mtsumagazine.com.

The next print edition of MTSU Magazine will reach MTSU alumni and friends by mail in late January 2015.

— Drew Ruble (drew.ruble@mtsu.edu)

MTSU singers make mark again on ‘The Voice’ (+VIDEOS)

MTSU once again gave viewers a dose of music reality as a student and an alumna sang their way onto season seven of the NBC competition “The Voice.”

Jonathan Wyndham

Jonathan Wyndham

Jean Kelley (Kelley Duggan)

Jean Kelley (Kelley Duggan)

Magna cum laude music-business graduate Kelley Duggan, who performs under her stage name Jean Kelley, sang her way into the Top 20 on “The Voice” before she was eliminated Nov. 11 in the first set of the competition’s live shows.

Duggan was initially chosen as a member of singer-songwriter Gwen Stefani’s “team” on the weekly reality show. She sang Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone” for her “blind audition,” when the celebrity judges can only hear, not see, the contestants.

Senior commercial songwriting major Jonathan Wyndham had all four celebrity judges scrambling to add him to their teams when he performed A Great Big World’s “Say Something” in his audition.

Wyndham chose Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine as his mentor and team leader but was sent home during the “battle round” competitions between members of each judge’s team, which began airing Oct. 13.

Both MTSU singers’ auditions aired during the Sept. 30 episode of “The Voice.” This marked the third year that “The Voice” has chosen MTSU alumni or students from among thousands of hopefuls to compete for $100,000 and a recording contract.

You can watch Wyndham’s “battle round” performance from the Oct. 13 episode below.


Stefani kept singer Sugar Joans instead of Duggan after the competitors sang Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” Judges Levine and Pharrell Williams took advantage of the ouster to try to “steal” Duggan for their own teams. Duggan chose to work with Williams, keeping her in the competition until the Nov. 11 live performance.

You can watch Duggan’s final “Voice” performance, a rendition of Brenda Russell’s “Piano in the Dark,” from the Nov. 11 episode below.


Duggan, a Brentwood, Tennessee, native who now lives in Atlanta and works in marketing and radio, called the experience “surreal” and said she “didn’t expect it to be as fun as it was.”

Levine called Duggan “sassy,” and Stefani, leader of No Doubt, praised her vocal range.

In addition to her August 2009 degree from MTSU with honors and membership in Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Duggan represented the university as Miss MTSU 2007 and competed in the Miss Tennessee pageant.

You can watch Duggan’s audition from the Sept. 30 episode below.


Wyndham, a Lexington, South Carolina, native, said that music helped him overcome a childhood speech impediment. He called “The Voice” a “crazy, out-of-body experience.”

The judges praised the emotional delivery and “vulnerability” of his audition song.

You can watch Wyndham’s audition from the Sept. 30 episode below.


Auditions for the seventh season of “The Voice” were recorded last summer and began airing Sept. 22. The pre-recorded “battle rounds” between the singers began airing Oct. 13, ultimately leading to live performance shows with an audience-voted winner.

The auditions narrowed 56 successful hopefuls down to 40 to create 10-member teams for each of the celebrity judges. Country singer Blake Shelton is this season’s fourth celebrity judge.

NBC The Voice graphic webThis is the second consecutive season that MTSU has been represented in the NBC reality show. MTSU 2009 recording industry grad Austin Ellis made his debut last spring; you can read more about him here.

Kris Thomas, a 2008 MTSU psychology alumnus, reached the show’s top 10 in spring 2013. Learn more about his adventure here.

Another MTSU alumnus, 2013 advertising/public relations grad Ben Briley of Gallatin, Tenn., reached the top 11 on Fox’s “American Idol” before the audience and judges sent him home last March. Read about him here.

MTSU vocal performance major Jonathan Allen sang himself into the summer 2013 semifinals of “America’s Got Talent” at Radio City Music Hall before that opportunity ended. Recording-industry major Curtis Holland tap-danced his way past hundreds of other hopefuls to make the Top 20 of Fox’s summer 2013 “So You Think You Can Dance,” but a shoulder injury eliminated him from the competition. You can learn more about them here.

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)

Jones College of Business honors 3 with achievement awards

The Jennings A. Jones College of Business at MTSU recently honored three businessmen with achievement awards in advance of the college’s entrepreneurship conference.

WordmarkJonesCollegeTwo of the three awards were presented during a reception held Thursday, Oct. 30, at Embassy Suites Murfreesboro, the site of the Jones College’s “2020 Millennial Game Plan: Maximizing Millennial Entrepreneurship and Innovation” conference held Oct. 31.

Honored at the reception were two MTSU alumni: technology expert Steve Anderson of Nashville and developer Rob Harper of Florida. Banker and philanthropist Jim Ayers, a Parsons, Tennessee, native now living in Nashville, was unable to attend the event and will be presented his award later.

“It is my distinct honor to present these awards to this year’s honorees,” said Dr. David Urban, dean of the Jones College of Business.

“All of them have led lives that we can all be proud of, and I am particularly thrilled to have them associated with the Jones College of Business and Middle Tennessee State University.”

Jennings A. Jones Champion of Free Enterprise Award — Jim Ayers

The Jennings A. Jones Champion of Free Enterprise Award is presented to an individual whose achievements are in keeping with the highest traditions of the American system of free enterprise. Award recipients are role models whose business, professional and personal achievements stand out for all to see and to emulate.

Jim Ayers, Jennings A. Jones Champion of Free Enterprise Award winner, 2014

Jim Ayers

Introduced by his parents in rural West Tennessee to the rewards of an honest day’s work, Jim Ayers became one of the state’s most successful businessmen. Ayers nurtured FirstBank from a single branch in Scotts Hill, Tennessee, into the state’s largest independently owned and operated bank, with over $2 billion in assets and over 40 locations. The bank is headquartered in Lexington, Tennessee.

After building successful healthcare and real estate ventures, Ayers established the Ayers Foundation, supporting educational programs in Henderson, Perry, and Decatur counties; the Ayers Institute at Vanderbilt University, conducting advanced cancer research; the Ayers Children’s Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee; and the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb University.

He received the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2007 Philanthropist of the Year Award, Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award, Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award, 2007 University of Memphis Distinguished Alumni Award, and honorary doctorates from Freed-Hardeman, Union, and Bethel Universities. Tennessee Bankers Association named him a Leader in Banking Excellence.

Previous winners of the award include healthcare executive Joey Jacobs, developer Mark Pirtle and the late Gov. Ned McWherter.

Jones College of Business Exemplar Award — Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson, Jones College of Business Exemplar Award winner, 2014

Steve Anderson

The Jones College Exemplar Award is presented to a graduate of the Jones College whose personal and professional accomplishments are exemplary for our current students. Because they are alumni, they have “walked in the shoes” of our current students. The commonality allows Jones College Exemplars to demonstrate that our current students can also achieve great things.

Steve Anderson worked with Accenture for 25 years. As a managing partner for 15 years, Anderson had operating responsibilities for various practice units. With deep manufacturing and supply chain skills, he led large-scale strategic and technology change programs for Fortune 500 companies, receiving national media recognition along the way.

Anderson has a bachelor’s degree from MTSU, an MBA from Jones College and CPIM Certification from the American Production and Inventory Control Society. He works part time mentoring young executives, assisting a consulting firm with strategic industry and client planning, and assisting a small healthcare startup. In recent years he has given presentations to Jones College Information Technology majors. Steve’s wife, Kathy, is a Jones College graduate active in Nashville nonprofits, and their son, Clint, works in Nashville’s healthcare industry.

Previous winners of the award include former congressman Bart Gordon, technology executive Darrell Freeman and real estate developer Bob Parks.

Joe M. Rodgers Spirit of America Award — Rob Harper

The Joe M. Rodgers Spirit of America Award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated the highest ideals in keeping with the American spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship, and commitment to others. Award recipients represent what America is, and what it can be.

Rob Harper

Rob Harper

In 1989, Robert F. “Rob” Harper IV received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Jones College. In 1991, he established a real estate and development company, Harper Properties, and at 24 opened his first residential home development. He went on to develop numerous other successful commercial, residential and multifamily development projects throughout Florida and acquired, developed and sold a portfolio of Florida commercial warehouse facilities.

In the late 1990s, he invested in agricultural and real estate lands in Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia. He partnered with Brian G. Philpot to establish Land South Group in 2002, acquiring over 200,000 acres throughout the Southeast. Harper established Bankers South High Yield Fund, originating high-yield lending opportunities in the real estate sector, and AgAmerica Lending, now one of the largest U.S. agricultural lenders. He serves as chair and CEO of Tall Tower Capital, one of the largest U.S. privately owned broadcast tower corporations. A founder in 1997 of Platinum Bank, serving the Central Florida market, he serves on its board of directors.

Previous winners of the award include country music legend Charlie Daniels, former governor Winfield Dunn and insurance executive Andrea Loughry.

For more information about the MTSU Jones College of Business, visit www.mtsu.edu/business.

— Jimmy Hart (jimmy.hart@mtsu.edu)

MTSU honors 2014-15 Distinguished Alumni at homecoming celebration

The 2014-15 MTSU Distinguished Alumni recipients include (from left) Linda Gilbert, Achievement in Education by a non-MTSU alumnus; Ashley Elizabeth Graham, Young Alumni Achievement Award, Matthew Little, True Blue Citation of Distinction for Service to the Community; Donald McDonald, True Blue Citation of Distinction for Service to the University; Dr. Ray Phillips, True Blue Citation of Distinction for Achievement in Education by a current or retired MTSU faculty member; and Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour, Distinguished Alumnus. (MTSU photo by Darby Campbell)

The 2014-15 MTSU Distinguished Alumni recipients include, from left, Dr. Linda Gilbert, Ashley Elizabeth Graham, Matthew Little, Donald McDonald, Dr. E. Ray Phillips and Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour. (MTSU photo by Darby Campbell)

Led by university President Sidney A. McPhee, MTSU paid tribute to six alumni who have brought their alma mater prestige and distinction through their exceptional professional careers and loyal support.

The MTSU Alumni Association’s 2014-15 honorees include Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, Distinguished Alumna recipient; Ashley Elizabeth Graham, Young Alumni Achievement Award honoree; and four recipients of the first-time True Blue Citations of Distinction:

  • Dr. E. Ray Phillips, Achievement in Education by a current or retired MTSU faculty member.
  • Dr. Linda Gilbert, Achievement in Education by an alumnus outside of MTSU.
  • Donald McDonald, Service to the University.
  • Matthew Little, Service to the Community.

As part of Homecoming Weekend, the Distinguished Alumni Awards were announced Oct. 17 in the MT Center inside the Sam H. Ingram Building on Middle Tennessee Boulevard. Chip Walters, “the voice of the Blue Raiders” in football and men’s basketball, served as master of ceremonies.

From 1960 to present, the MTSU Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with the association’s highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award. A younger alumnus who is making a positive impact in the world receives the Young Alumni Achievement Award. New this year are the True Blue Citations of Distinction.

The honorees will ride in the MTSU Homecoming Parade Saturday, Oct. 18, and will be recognized later in the day during the MTSU vs. UAB Homecoming Game, which has a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.

Here is a glance at the 2014-15 honorees.

Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour

Distinguished Alumna — Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour (Class of 1997)

Armour went from being a beat cop to a combat pilot in three years and became America’s first African-American female combat pilot, serving two tours overseas. Now a resident of Stafford, Virginia, Armour enrolled at MTSU, joined the Army ROTC program and, after graduating with an exercise science degree, she served three years as a Metro Nashville police officer.

Following in her father and stepfather’s military career footsteps, Armour became a second lieutenant and pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. A noted author and speaker, Armour has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, the Tavis Smiley Show, National Public Radio and others.

Ashley Elizabeth Graham

Ashley Elizabeth Graham

Young Alumni Achievement Award — Ashley Elizabeth Graham (Class of  ’12)

Graham’s passion for politics landed her a role with a state senator’s campaign while an MTSU student and then catapulted her to Washington, D.C. Early in her career, she was writing speeches for the General Services Administration that required a security clearance. Graham later found herself working at the White House for the Bush administration as deputy director of presidential writers.

She was one of six speechwriters for a recent Republican National Convention, and the Nashville resident now serves as deputy communications director for U.S. Congressman Marsha Blackburn. Graham received the Maverick PAC 40 under 40 Award in 2013.

True Blue Citations of Distinction

Ray Phillips

Ray Phillips

Dr. Ray Phillips (Class of ’66) — Achievement in Education for current or retired MTSU faculty

Phillips, who lives outside of Bell Buckle, Tennessee, enjoyed a lengthy history as an MTSU educator, serving as a Department of Mathematics faculty member and chair, associate dean in the College of Graduate Studies and interim dean in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences from 1990 to 2003.

He was active in research, curriculum development, crucial grant writing that earned the university several million dollars and science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education leadership. He established the Tennessee STEM Education Center at MTSU, and a colleague said his “illustrious career in education … has brought distinction to MTSU.”

Linda Gilbert

Linda Gilbert

Dr. Linda Gilbert (Classes of ’72, ’79 and ’91) — Achievement in Education, non-MTSU

Gilbert, a Murfreesboro resident, has served many years as a Murfreesboro City School administrator, currently as director of schools. Her leadership and knowledge have benefited the city schools and MTSU. This includes co-authoring grants for MTeach, an MTSU program designed to increase the quantity and quality of math and science teachers in Tennessee and the United States and facilitating dual enrollment between MTSU and Rutherford County Schools.

Her involvement and service with the university includes membership in and chairing many advisory boards and committees from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences advisory board to the Band of Blue Executive Board.

Donald McDonald

Donald McDonald

Donald McDonald (Class of ’63) — Service to the University

McDonald and his wife, Frances, remain avid MTSU supporters with both their time and resources. They are 1911 Society members, giving to the university through their estate plans, and scholarship benefactors. The Donald McDonald Aerospace Maintenance Laboratory is named for him at the Flight Operations Center at Murfreesboro Airport, and he has served and currently serves on the MTSU Foundation Board and Aerospace Advisory Board.

The McDonalds open their home and personal hangar to aerospace students and faculty and attend many MTSU functions. Their love and passion for MTSU is exemplified by their financial commitment to MTSU’s future and their continued involvement in university boards.

Matthew Little

Matthew Little

Matthew Little (Class of ’08) — Service to the Community

Little, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, has been involved in service for 20 years. He has been a part of numerous initiatives, including running camps for 2,000 students, providing leadership for Tennessee’s statewide service day and creating a national park educational program. Tennessee named Little as a delegate to its first Truancy and Dropout Prevention Conference, and he participated in the Mayor’s Summit on Children and Youth in Nashville.

He works with ServeAlabama as a member of a nonprofit to support the work of volunteers. Little’s leadership has guided three institutions to being named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. He is senior associate director of admissions at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)