Tricia Walker, Grammy-winning songwriter

“I grew up in Fayette, Mississippi in an old civil war plantation house and my parents spent all of my childhood fixing it up. I grew up playing piano and had a wonderful music teacher, then I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and wanted to do that so my parents bought me a guitar from Western Auto and I learned how to play. I was in my first rock’n’roll band when I was 13. We were called the Mishaps and made about 35 cents each on our first gig. I got a graduate degree in music, played around Jackson and won a couple of prizes at a songwriting festival. They said I needed to go to Nashville to make it a career so I moved in 1980 and stayed for 26 years. I got into performing, production and publishing along with songwriting. I was in Connie Smith’s band and played the Grand Ole Opry. Roy Acuff came to the barbecues at my house and sat on the porch and sang ‘Wabash Cannonball.’ I worked with Paul Overstreet and played keyboards and sang backup for Shania Twain during the early part of her career. I started Women in the Round at Bluebird Cafe with Karen Staley, Ashley Cleveland and Pam Tillis. We have a great chemistry and still do it a couple of times a year. Nashville was the right place for me because the songwriting community was very supportive. I enjoy storytelling songs and wrote for Ford Music for five years and then was signed to Polygram. Kostas Lazarides and I wrote ‘Looking in the Eyes of Love’ that was recorded by Patty Loveless but won a Grammy for Best Performance for Allison Krauss.Faith Hill also cut one of my songs. Writers want great artists to do their songs. The Grammy didn’t make me a better songwriter, but it is a good door opener. I wrote a song called ‘Heart of Dixie’ about the African American woman who raised me and it was on the Oxford American Sampler. You write the songs and let them go. I was in Nashville at a great time but it has changed a lot and the Internet has changed everything. More singers are writing their own songs and it is harder to get in. I had to reinvent myself and started thinking about going home after Katrina hit. I took what I learned in Nashville and came back in 2006 to build an entertainment and music industry program at Delta State. We want to keep talent here. The first day I tell them if you can do anything else, go do it. I teach them how to manage the business and still keep the passion.”

“I am 2 or 3 songs from finishing my next record and I have made 8 or 9 records so far. I really enjoy producing and using what I have learned to help young musicians. We are trying to encourage a music scene in Cleveland and help business and audience appreciate the value of performers and technicians. We have a diverse group in our department, they start mixing hip hop and alternative and bring in something new and fresh. We want to launch them from here and have careers that take them anywhere they want to go, but keep their roots here.”

“Grammy Museum Mississippi opened in Cleveland in March. They wanted to expand their brand East and Bob Santelli, the executive director of the Grammy Museum, understood the blues and that much of American music comes from a southern triangle centered around here and many Grammy winners have come from Mississippi. They wanted it on a college campus with a recording program and our leaders were on board and we got the support, raised the money and got the museum here. Mississippi has an authenticity that you can not replicate. People want to find something real, like Po Monkey’s juke joint, and they want to touch it before it is gone. You can fuss at us and point at us, but you don’t have what we have here. People don’t know why they come back, but they come back.”

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