A rising college freshman from Lexington, Ky., earned the top title of Songbook Youth Ambassador at the Saturday finals concert to cap the weeklong Songbook Academy®, the nation’s only youth music intensive focused on the timeless popular standards of jazz, Broadway, and Hollywood.
Before a near-capacity crowd at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts, 18-year-old Lily Rasmussen won over the judges with her renditions of “What’s the Use of Wondrin’” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel and “The Man That Got Away,” penned by Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen and famously sung by Judy Garland in A Star Is Born.
About the winner
Now Rasmussen looks forward to a year of high-profile performances, some alongside five-time Grammy Award nominee Michael Feinstein, founder of the Great American Songbook Foundation and lead mentor at the Songbook Academy, now in its ninth year. Past winners have sung the National Anthem at NFL games and played such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Feinstein’s cabaret clubs in New York and San Francisco.
“I feel the most happy a person can, that’s how I would describe it,” said Rasmussen, who will head to New York next week to attend Marymount Manhattan College. MMC was also the choice of 2014 Songbook Youth Ambassador Maddie Baillio, who played the lead role in NBC’s 2016 Hairspray Live! broadcast.
Looking back on her Academy experience – a week of workshops and professional mentoring alongside 39 of her peers from coast to coast – Rasmussen said she was most impressed by “how many people love this music just as much as I do, and that they love it an incredible amount, and that’s very comforting.”
Along with Feinstein, this year’s professional mentors included 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.
Other top award winners included Anaïs Reno of New York City, who claimed the Songbook Inspiration Award, and Zoë Stewart of Milford, Mass., who received the Songbook Celebration Award. Rounding out the Top 10 finalists this year were Olivia Broadwater of Zionsville, Ind.; Reed Gnepper of Cincinnati, Ohio; Emma Hackworth of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Abigail Marotta of Ocoee, Fla.; Eevie Perez of San Diego, Calif.; Johnny Rabe of Naperville, Ill.; and Gabriel Schonman of River Forest, Ill.
Leading up to the Songbook Academy Finals were two other public events: Wednesday’s Public Masterclass, in which Feinstein and Cherry provided live onstage coaching to 10 randomly selected vocalists, and Thursday’s Songbook Showcase, from which the Top 10 finalists were selected for Saturday’s showdown.
The Songbook Academy is sponsored nationally by the Efroymson Family Fund. The Public Masterclass and Songbook Showcase were sponsored by Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The Finals concert was presented by the Center for the Performing Arts and sponsored by Salon 01, Aquage haircare products, and Current Publishing LLC.