The Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project

2024 Faculty

Victoria Banks

Labeled “one of the best songwriters in the business” by Nashville’s MusicRow magazine, Victoria Banks was named Female Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year by the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) in 2010 and has been nominated for 9 other CCMA Awards. She is an instructor of Songwriting at Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business.

Victoria – who originally hails from Muskoka, Canada – penned Reba’s 2024 single “I Can’t,” which was premiered on NBC’s The Voice and performed on the 59th Academy of Country Music Awards. She also co-wrote 3 songs on the ground-breaking 2020 EP Bridges by the Grammy-nominated Mickey Guyton, and 4 songs on Guyton’s 2021 Remember Her Name album, including “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” (which made history as the first original song performed by a Black woman on the ACM Awards). Guyton delivered another ACM Awards performance in 2021 with Victoria’s song “Hold On.”

In her multi-decade tenure as a songwriter on Nashville’s Music Row, Victoria has had cuts by over 100 artists, including ASCAP, SOCAN, CCMA and Covenant-award-winning hits such as the solo-written “Saints & Angels” by Sara Evans, Jessica Simpson’s Billboard record-breaking “Come On Over,” and one of the top Canadian singles of the decade: Johnny Reid’s “Dance With Me.” Her songs have been recorded by Carly Pearce, Lauren Alaina, Terri Clark, Cassadee Pope, The Shires, Isaac Slade (of The Fray), and more, and have been featured in TV and movies like BreakthroughNashvilleAmerican Idol, and Dancing with The Stars.

As an artist, Victoria has released four self-produced, self-penned albums, including 2020’s Uncovered (for which she produced, arranged, engineered, and played every instrument on every track). She has appeared on NBC’s Songland TV show, toured with artists from Reba to Wynonna, and performed alongside the Nashville Ballet when they choreographed several of her songs for their Attitude program, including the ballet’s title song “City Of Dreams.” Victoria co-hosts the podcast The Table Women, exploring the ups and downs of the female experience in entertainment through interviews with notable women.

Stephen Bray

Stephen Bray has written and produced 12 Billboard Top 10 recordings, including Madonna’s hits “Into the Groove,” “Angel,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “True Blue,” and “Express Yourself.” He also wrote and produced for his band, Breakfast Club, earning a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 1987 and a Top 10 single with “Right on Track.” While working with Breakfast Club, Bray continued writing and producing for Madonna and other multi-platinum artists, including Gladys Knight, Kylie Minogue, and The Jets.

Bray’s music has appeared in many films and TV shows, such as Desperately Seeking Susan, Beverly Hills Cop II, Who’s That Girl, Earth Girls Are Easy, Glee, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Scream Queens, Despicable Me 3, Pose, and Stranger Things. In 2005, his Broadway debut as composer and lyricist for The Color Purple earned him one of the show’s 11 Tony nominations. In 2017, The Color Purple won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, and Bray received a Grammy Award for producing the Broadway cast recording. His film work includes producing music for MGM’s Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson, and the Warner Brothers feature film adaptation of The Color Purple.

Craig Carnelia

Craig Carnelia has had four shows produced on Broadway. Working with composer Marvin Hamlisch, he wrote the lyrics for Sweet Smell of Success, with book by John Guare, and Imaginary Friends, with Nora Ephron. Hamlisch and Carnelia received Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations for their score for Sweet Smell of Success, and Carnelia received a Drama Desk nomination for his lyrics in Imaginary Friends. As both composer and lyricist, Craig wrote the score for Is There Life After High School, and contributed four songs to Studs Terkel’s Working, for which he received his first Tony nomination. Off-Broadway, he wrote the music and lyrics for Three Postcards at Playwrights Horizons, with book by Craig Lucas, earning a “Best Plays Citation,” and contributed to the review Diamonds directed by Hal Prince. Regional premieres include Poster Boy at Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Good War at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre and Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre, the last two written with playwright-director David H. Bell.

Craig has won a number of major songwriting awards, including the Johnny Mercer Award, the first annual Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theatre Award, and the prestigious Kleban Award. Carnelia’s book The Reason to Sing: A Guide to Acting While Singing was published by Routledge in 2021 and is in use at universities around the country. Current projects include two musicals, The Kids in 201 with John Weidman and Just Us Boys (formerly known as Poster Boy) with Joe Tracz, and a play, 14 Animals in One Minute. He has been on the council of the Dramatists Guild since 1995 and is married to Broadway actor/educator Lisa Brescia.

Back to Songwriters Project