Stax Music Academy celebrates Juneteenth with plans for a “Songwriting Showdown” to allow Memphis-area teens a chance to add their voices to movement for racial equality

From the haunting 1939 Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit” protesting the lynching of blacks in America, to protest songs of the 1960s like the Staple Singers’ “When Will We Be Paid,” to releases in the wake of recent killings of African-Americans including H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe” and Trey Songz’s “2020 Riots: How Many Times,” music has always been a part of the movement for racial equality and justice.

Today, on Juneteenth, the Stax Music Academy (SMA) announced “Songwriting Showdown,” a new songwriting challenge for Memphis-area teens aged 13 – 18 to allow them to add their voices to the current Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter Movements.

The rules are as follows:

  • Songs should be themed for the movement for justice and equality
  • Open to all teens who live in the Greater Memphis area (10 miles of Memphis)
  • Tempo should be midrange to fast
  • All songs submitted must be original- beat, music, and lyrics.
  • All material must be submitted by midnight on Friday, June 26th
  • Submissions can be of any genre.
  • All files submitted must be MP3 or MP4 with an email containing the names of writer(s) and contributor(s)
  • All winners are based purely on the judges’ decisions. Submissions will be judged on lyrics, melody, arrangement, and recognizable hook. All winning submissions will be posted on SMA social media and remain the property of their creators.

Submissions should be sent as an MP3 or MP4 to

All songs submitted will be judged by a panel of judges that includes:

Kirby: Stax Music Academy alumna and Soulsville Foundation board member. Roc Nation songwriter. Recording artist who recently released ““How To Make A Non Racist Breakfast” in protest of the Aunt Jemima breakfast brand, which racked up 2 million views on Twitter alone and was the No. 10 trending topic in the U.S. on the social media platform.

Jozzy Donald: Rapper/singer/songwriter from Memphis. Columbia Records recording artist. Co-writer of “Old Town Road.” Has collaborated with the likes of Lil Wayne, Missy Elliott, Chris Brown, and Beyoncé.

ThankGod4Cody: GRAMMY©-nominated, multiplatinum artist, songwriter, and producer from Memphis. Made his artistic debut with Cody of Nazareth in 2019. Known for his work on SZA’S CTRL album spawning hits with his production credits on songs like “Love Galore” ft. Travis Scott and “The Weekend”. His recent single, “Light My Way” is the first single release in the Thank God 4 Friday campaign.

CJ Tate: Native Memphian singer/artist/songwriter/producer. First single “Send Her On to Me,” has generated 150,000+ YouTube views and collectively 50,000+ downloads across major digital providers and has received airtime on popular radio stations in both the U.S. and U.K. markets. Tate has graced many stages across the country including opening for Wu Tang Clan at L.A.’s The Airliner, a showcase at Atlanta’s Club Life during the A3C Hip Hop Festival, CellularSouth’s Emerge artist platform, a slot in the Memphis Music Foundation/Heal the Hood Community Concert, an artist showcase in L.A. for Interscope Records, and most recently opening for Future at CIAA’s Basketball Tournament.

In addition to this stellar panel of judges, Songwriting Showdown is being sponsored in part by Stax Records icon Steve Cropper to incentivize the challenge songwriting package. Cropper was the guitarist for Booker T. & the MGs and an accomplished songwriter in his own right, co-writing such indelible classic Stax soul music hits as “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay” with Otis Redding, “Knock on Wood” with Eddie Floyd, and “In the Midnight Hour” with Wilson Pickett.” Ironically, they wrote the latter two R&B songs at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, which was one of the only safe gathering spots for blacks and whites at the time, and the location not long afterwards of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to Stax Music Academy Executive Director Pat Mitchell Worley, “We are dealing with two life-altering situations right now: being forced to work virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread protests against racism in the United States in the wake of the horrific killings of black Americans. It’s our responsibility as music educators to do our best to tackle these issues head on, and we think giving a voice to young aspiring musical artists and writers is one way to help empower a new generation to affect change by using music.”

Kirby, whose aforementioned anti-racist video was featured on NBC’s Today show this week, added, “One way to support The Black Lives Matter Movement is to invest in our youth. Jozzy, Cj Tate, Cody and me all started our music careers in Memphis. We see our younger selves in these kids and want to help encourage them to spark change! We’re excited and humbled to be a part!”

Funding for Songwriting Showdown will be supported by a $50,000 Lewis Prize for Music COVID-19 Community Response Fund grant that the Stax Music Academy received earlier this week.

Prizes for the songwriting challenge winners include: 1st Place Prize: $500, Zoom critique from judges, Novation Midi keyboard, studio headphones, Isotope studio Spire; 2nd and 3rd Place: Novation Midi keyboard, studio headphones, Isotope studio Spire. In addition, all submissions will receive a short one-pager on copyright and link to copyright registration along with a walk-through on the copyright process from the Stax Music Academy.

The Winner

The winner of “Songwriting Challenge,” announced June 30, 2020, is “iN DuE TiME” by SMA and Soulsville Charter School graduate Amari Ajuma (Pharoah Love), who recently received a scholarship to Grambling State University and was featured in The Daily Memphian and USA Today. The song was produced by Ky Muney, engineered by Tai Lomax, and recorded at Track Nation Studio.


About Stax Music Academy

The Stax Music Academy is a program of the Memphis-based Soulsville Foundation, which also operates the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and The Soulsville Charter School. It is is an afterschool and summer music institute located adjacent to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music at the original site of Stax Records. Through intensive music education and youth development programming, it prepares its students for post-secondary success as socially conscious adults, regardless of path, whether it be attending college or entering the music workforce. Since its founding in 2000, SMA has educated and mentored more than 3,000 students and its alumni can be heard around the world, teaching, performing, recording, and more at he highest levels of the music industry.