Song Stylist: Deanna Walker’s new podcast brings her “Blair Hit Songwriter Series” to the masses

Blair’s Deanna Walker, left, welcomes to her songwriting class Claude Kelly, middle, and Chuck Harmony of the duo Louis York. Photo by Steve Green

Blair’s Deanna Walker, left, welcomes to her songwriting class Claude Kelly, middle, and Chuck Harmony of the duo Louis York. Photo by Steve Green

Deanna Walker was initiated into the world of hit Nashville songwriting in the usual way. She suffered a broken heart.

In the 1990s, Walker’s best friend went through a contentious divorce. An ugly custody battle ensued, which had a traumatizing effect on Walker’s 2-year-old goddaughter.

“I just went home and started crying,” Walker recalls. “I spontaneously started writing a song about the experience. Later, when I played it for other people, they started crying. I knew at that point I wanted to be a songwriter.”

“There’s simply no better way to learn than to have Nashville’s top songwriters, publishers and producers talk to the students about their experiences.”

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Walker, adjunct artist teacher of piano at the Vanderbilt Blair School of Music since 1998, is a fixture in Nashville’s songwriting community. Since 1999 she’s taught a wildly popular course called the Blair Hit Songwriter Series. It started as a single class for adults but quickly grew into multiple courses for beginning and advanced writers. Walker estimates that more than 500 aspiring songwriters have gone through the courses since their inception.

Now, Walker has added the latest component to her series, a podcast that makes the course available to songsmiths everywhere. The podcast closely mirrors the format of her classes, which bring major industry insiders to Blair each week to expound on the mysteries of Music City’s signature craft.

“There’s simply no better way to learn than to have Nashville’s top songwriters, publishers and producers talk to the students about their experiences,” Walker says.

Over the years, legendary songwriters like Steve Earle, Brandy Clark and Craig Wiseman have visited the class and imparted their wisdom. Such heavyweights from the Music Row publishing world as Ciara Shortridge (Disney), Cliff Audretch III, Chelsea Kent (S-D-Management) and Bobby Rymer have likewise been regulars.  Natalie Hemby, Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony (of the duo Louis York), Mary Gauthier and Jon Nite will be some of the first guests to launch the podcast.

What do great songwriters all have in common? Not surprisingly, all of them are persistent and keep writing no matter how many times they’re rejected. They’re also intellectually curious and are always searching for the true essence and meaning of a song. And they’re emotionally connected to the people around them.

Walker says her podcast, which launched May 7, is a low-fi affair, basically a single microphone to capture the conversations with her guests. Nevertheless, the new feature will be infinitely revealing.

“Listeners feel like they are in the class,” Walker says.

—John Pitcher

Learn more about the Blair Hit Songwriter Podcast at vu.edu/hit–songs


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