Students Across America Selected as Winners of 2020 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge

National Endowment for the Arts Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge

Washington, DC—The National Endowment for the Arts with the American Theatre Wing announced today the winners of the 2020 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge. Through mentorships with professional musical theater artists, the Songwriting Challenge seeks to cultivate the next generation of musical theater songwriters from among the country’s high school students. Program collaborators are; Disney Theatrical Productions, Concord Theatricals, and the S.O.N.G.S. Foundation of the National Music Publishers’ Association.

The Songwriting Challenge provides each winner with a two-person coaching team—a mentor and a music director—to hone an original song into a Broadway-ready composition. Each song is then recorded by Broadway musicians and vocalists in New York City, made available on streaming music platforms, and compiled into a songbook by Concord Theatricals.

This year’s third annual program is changing to meet the challenges and opportunities of the moment. All mentoring will take place virtually and the recording sessions will be a combination of in-person and virtual. Additionally, shifting all mentoring to video conferencing has released funds previously dedicated to travel which has allowed the program to double the number of winners to 12.

“These talented young people and the varying styles and themes of their songs speak to the energizing diversity of our country,” said Arts Endowment Chairman Mary Anne Carter. “Offering this life-changing opportunity to more young artists this year is especially exciting and I look forward to following their progress and listening to their songs.”

“Despite the challenges the arts community has faced in 2020, we are committed to continuing to provide opportunities for the next generation of artists to express their creativity and tell their story,” said Heather Hitchens, American Theatre Wing President & CEO. “The Songwriting Challenge allows the chance for young songwriters to be seen, to be heard, and to form lifelong relationships with Broadway professionals. It is my hope that these winners will develop into artists whose talent drives social change, shifts our perceptions, and transforms the way we think.”

collage of student faces

The 2020 winners are below and their song descriptions and photos are here:




School Level

School Name

Ada Fender

Windsor Heights



Roosevelt High School

Adam Jones

North Chesterfield



UNC Greensboro

Alejandro Rodriguez




Florida State University

Chelsea Rose


North Carolina


Durham School of the Arts

Henry Crater




University of Michigan

Jane Brinkley & Ashley Schmittle




Smith College & DePaul University

Joseph Mosby




Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School

Leilani Patao

Los Angeles



Los Angeles County High School for the Arts

Sierra Blanco

New York

New York


Professional Children's School

Soleil Singh




Yale University

Viola Durfee




School Without Walls

Xyzsa Pagaduan




Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts

The 12 winners were chosen by review panels of professional theater artists in a blind competition from almost 200 applications submitted by high school students in 41 states. The next phase is that each winner will be paired with their mentor and music director to begin work in September with recording planned for November.

Reflecting the high quality of the submissions and in addition to the 12 winners, 28 students were selected as Honorable Mentions.

To watch performances from the 2016, 2018, and 2019 programs, go to To join the conversation on social media, use #IWriteMusicals.

About the American Theatre Wing
On the eve of America’s entry into World War I, seven suffragists - all women of the theatre - came together to form The Stage Women’s War Relief. Over a century later, the spirit and vision behind the founding of the American Theatre Wing remains a touchstone for every program developed: to support theatre that is as vital, multi-faceted, and diverse as the American people. The Wing continues to champion bravery by supporting new artists and advances the future of American theatre by celebrating excellence and nurturing the next generation on the stage, behind the scenes, and in the audience.

The American Theatre Wing’s programs span the nation, providing theatre education opportunities for underserved students through the Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative, developing the next generation of theatre professionals through the SpringboardNYC and The Network programs, incubating innovative theatre across the country through the National Theatre Company Grants, fostering the songs of American Theatre through the Jonathan Larson Grants, and illuminating the creative process through the Emmy-nominated “Working in the Theatre” documentary series. In addition to founding the Tony Awards - co-presented with The Broadway League - the American Theatre Wing co-presents the Obie Awards, Off-Broadway’s highest honor, alongside The Village Voice. Visit to gain insight into the American theatre artistic process and to learn more about the extensive programming and grant opportunities for students, aspiring & working professionals and audiences.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more about the National Endowment for the Arts.


Victoria Hutter