Rodrigue Foundation and Trombone Shorty Foundation Songwriting Contest

We’re excited to partner again with George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts on the 2021 Scholarship Art and Songwriting Contest! The theme for the contest is “ALONE TOGETHER: Art in the Time of Pandemic.” All entries have been submitted and are in the review process, the deadline was April 9. Celebrity judges (listed below) will choose winners using carefully curated criteria. Three winners will split $6000 in scholarship prize money, along with additional professional development opportunities for the contest winners.

Students were encouraged to reflect and explore their thoughts on this difficult year for inspiration. They were asked to consider the following questions when creating their original songs:

How has disaster and disease shaped art and music throughout history? How has your life changed as a result of COVID-19? What does social distancing and quarantine mean to you? What has been the most difficult part of this year for you? What do you miss most about life before COVID-19? What is your hope for the future?

For visual artist George Rodrigue, music served as inspiration, a soundtrack and an outlet for his creativity. He was a lifelong fan of music; he used some of his favorite musicians as the subjects for, and inspirations behind several of his paintings, playfully used song lyrics as the titles of his works, and often listened to music as he painted. In 2007, when Rodrigue painted the “Rodrigue Steinway,” a 100-year-old Steinway piano, Rodrigue asked himself the question: “What does music look like?” The result was a series of swirling sound waves, combined with the iconic Blue Dog, creating a unique fusion of art and music. This is the 2nd year we’ve partnered with the Rodrigue Foundation on this contest. Past judges have included Jon Batiste, PJ Morton, Lauren Daigle, and Anders Osborne.

We want to thank our 2021 celebrity judges for their time and commitment to this process! See below for a list of judges along with photos and bios.

Trombone Shorty

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is a musician, producer, actor and philanthropist from New Orleans, Louisiana. He was born into a well-known New Orleans musical family in 1986. His grandfather, Jessie Hill, was a locally popular R&B recording artist. His older brother, James “12” Andrews, was a successful jazz trumpeter who was also an early mentor. Andrews began playing music at a very early age and was playing professionally at the age of five. He mastered trombone, trumpet, and drums, eventually choosing the trombone as his principal instrument and thus picking up his nickname. Andrews became a student at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts’ (NOCCA). In 2003 he was one of five young musicians chosen as the subject for a PBS television documentary, and also performed on the network’s nationally broadcast tribute to Louis Armstrong, directed by Wynton Marsalis. Since 2009, Andrews has toured the country and the globe with his own band, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. He’s appeared with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and shared a stage with internationally touring artists like Lenny Kravitz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Rolling Stones, U2, and many others.

Robin Barnes

With a voice that is as powerful with a whisper as it is with a bellow, contemporary New Orleans jazz singer Robin Barnes is here to stun audiences.Robin grew up surrounded by jazz sounds, as made evident by a #5 debut on the Traditional Jazz Albums Billboard charts in 2016. Music featured on Bravo, NCIS, the Blacklist and more. She is a University of New Orleans graduate with a Masters in Business Administration and is also the founder of New Orleans fitness movement Move Ya Brass. She is known and trademarked as the “Songbird of New Orleans.

Donald Markowitz

Donald Markowitz is an American composer best known for co-writing the Academy Award winning song, “I’ve Had the Time of My Life”, which gained popularity through its use in the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing”. Born and raised in New York City, Markowitz began his career playing bass for Speedo and The Cadillacs. He performed at the Apollo Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, the Cotton Club and Roseland Ballroom, among other celebrated venues. After winning the Oscar, Donald relocated to Los Angeles where he spent the next 20 years writing songs and scores for film and television. In 1995 he was signed by the Disney Company and began a 6 year span composing for various Disney productions. Presently, he lives and works in New Orleans. He works out of Mid City Sound and Esplanade Studios in the Treme neighborhood. Donald continues to write scores for commercials including  the National World War II Museum, Crystal, Blue Runner, Kennedy Space Center, Century Link, NOLA, Wise, Whitney Bank and more.

Bruce Sunpie Barnes

Bruce Sunpie Barnes is a New Orleans musician, book author and ethnographic photographer. Sunpie is the Big Chief of the Northside Skull and Bone Gang one the oldest Afro-Creole carnival groups in the United States, which began its traditions in 1819. He is a member of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the band leader of the popular New Orleans musical group Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots.  His latest book and cd project are a 128-page volume and 15 song cd entitled Le Kèr Creole, which he co-authored with Rachel Breunlin and Leroy Etienne. Sunpie is a former National Park Service Ranger, former high school biology teacher, former college football All-American, and former NFL football player (Kansas City Chiefs).  

Paul Sanchez

Paul Sanchez transforms audiences with his unique blend of music and storytelling – at once powerful, sad, humorous, entertaining, and hopeful. Fans may know native New Orleanian Paul Sanchez as a founding member of the rock band Cowboy Mouth, with whom he has 11 albums; for his role in the HBO series TREME where he played himself; or as the creative force behind the musical NINE LIVES, a musical adaptation of the best-selling novel by Dan Baum. In January of 2010, OffBeat Magazine awarded Paul Sanchez three Best of The Beat Awards: Songwriter of The Year, Best Song of The Year, Best Folk/Rock Album for Stew Called New Orleans, his duet record with friend and collaborator John Boutte. In April of that same year Gambit Weekly awarded him Best Roots Rock Performer at The Big Easy Awards. Sanchez has written songs for Darius Rucker of Hootie and The Blowfish, The Eli Young Band, and Irma Thomas.

Aaron Wilkinson (Honey Island Swamp Band)

Born into a musical family, Wilkinson picked up guitar from his father at age ten. Inspired by everything from the Beatles to Hendrix to heavy metal, he took an early interest in songwriting, and lead a succession of original bands as a youngster in Pensacola, FL.  A passing interest in the electric bass became a full time profession when he moved to New Orleans at age 22 and co-founded the band idletime, which went on to sign with Louisiana Red Hot Records. Several years of touring and work as a bassist with New Orleans artists, including Theresa Andersson and Irene Sage, led Wilkinson to his continuing role as bassist for Eric Lindell and Company. Marooned in San Francisco in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Wilkinson began swapping songs with Chirs Mulé, an old friend and the guitarist for the Eric Lindell Band. Reflecting a blossoming interest in classic country music and a firm foundation in delta blues, the songs provided an ideal opportunity for Wilkinson to showcase his developing skills as a mandolin player and vocalist, as well as a songwriter. Within weeks the two had a weekly gig at San Francisco’s Boom Boom Room, and the Honey Island Swamp Band was born.