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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

City native's work up for Grammy

From left are Ben Cooper's co-songwriter and mentor Gordon Kennedy, Ricky Skaggs and Cooper. Cooper and his wife will be at the Grammy Awards ceremony Sunday night.
From left are Ben Cooper's co-songwriter and mentor Gordon Kennedy, Ricky Skaggs and Cooper. Cooper and his wife will be at the Grammy Awards ceremony Sunday night.

More Information

On TV

The 53rd annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast 8-11:30 p.m. Sunday on WANE, Channel 15.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Ben Cooper co-wrote 8 songs on Ricky Skaggs' new album.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 09:00 am
Ben Cooper has found his place in the mosaic of songwriting.A Fort Wayne native and Blackhawk Christian graduate, Cooper, 25, has been a songwriter for Montage Music Group in Nashville since 2008. He co-wrote eight songs on Ricky Skaggs' new album, “Mosaic,” which will be up Sunday for a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year.

“It feels amazing,” Cooper said.

Two and a half years ago, he and his mentor, Gordon Kennedy, 50, put together a demo CD for Skaggs. Kennedy had previously written a song for Skaggs and was contacted by one of Skaggs' representatives, looking for material for the new album.

Cooper said he and Kennedy co-wrote the first three songs on the demo; the rest were written by Kennedy. The contact told them he liked the first three songs, but he wasn't sure if they were bluegrass enough for the album, so he was going to re-record the demo omitting the three songs and then pass it on to Skaggs.

Cooper shrugged it off, but six months later they got another call. The contact said Skaggs never heard the re-recorded CD, only the first one, and the only songs he was interested in were the first three. He was also interested in as many other co-written songs as the pair could produce for the album. By the time the CD was finished, Cooper and Kennedy had co-written eight of the album's 14 tracks.

Cooper said this experience has taught him it's OK to think beyond what will fit in the perfect radio time slot, or the perfect genre for that artist.

Cooper and Kennedy met in 2006 when Cooper was a student at Belmont University in Nashville. Every year the school has a songwriter's showcase and brings in a guest judge.

That year Kennedy judged, and Cooper won the competition. The two exchanged e-mails, but Cooper says they lost touch and weren't reacquainted until 2008. Cooper co-wrote a song with songwriter Melinda Schneider for Olivia Newton-John, and Kennedy played all the guitar parts on the recording.

Bobby Rymer, Cooper's publisher, and Schneider suggested that Cooper and Kennedy get together and write songs. The two have much in common: Both are heavily influenced by the Beatles, and they have similar faith backgrounds.

For Cooper it was a dream come true; he had long admired Kennedy's work. He remembers how much he loved the song “Change the World,” a song Kennedy wrote that Eric Clapton covered.

“He is my songwriting hero,” Cooper said.

The day the two were first going to work together, Cooper was so nervous that his wife, Brittany, told him to listen to a song she likes called “It's Going to be Alright.” Cooper said the song was starting to make him feel better until he looked at the CD liner notes and realized the song was written by Kennedy.

Despite his jitters, their first session went very well, and Cooper didn't share the story with Kennedy until a year later when they were playing in a circle of songwriters at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Cooper shared the story with the audience, and Kennedy played the song.

“Our relationship has become almost like family,” Cooper said.

Cooper says when the two sit down together to write a song, they work as equals. Cooper says he always feels he has something he can contribute.

“Gordon makes me feel like what I have to say really matters,” Cooper said.

Sometimes they write from a theme, other times they write the melody before the words, and sometimes the two come at the same time.

In the case of the title song for “Mosaic,” a poem from a high school friend of Kennedy and the “mosaic” screen saver on the computer acted as a catalyst for the song. Cooper said Kennedy's friend used a wheelchair in high school and in a poem wrote: “I have to trust that God put me in this place because he wanted it filled,” Cooper quoted. He said seeing all the pictures on the computer screen saver drop back, become smaller and then form one giant picture cemented the mosaic idea.

Thanks to some frequent-flier miles that Cooper's very supportive Fort Wayne parents, Jennifer and Garrett Cooper, are giving them, Cooper and Brittany will attend the Grammy Awards. A trip to Goodwill for a tux and a shirt for Cooper and a $6.97 bargain dress from a sale rack at JCPenney have provided their attire for the event.

Cooper recently started a blog, The Songbird Project, which he refers to as “digital mentoring for songwriters.” People can get feedback and hear from other songwriters in the business atthesongbirdproject.com.

“I haven't seen anything out there that is quite like it,” Cooper said.

More Information

On TV

The 53rd annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast 8-11:30 p.m. Sunday on WANE, Channel 15.

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