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The Life of a Song Mentors

Meet the Writers…

Barbara Cloyd – Host of Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe

Since it began in 1986, Barbara has been hosting the open mic at the Bluebird Café, where she has seen newcomers like Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney and David Wilcox, as well as many of today’s top writers.

After Lorrie Morgan took Barbara’s song “I Guess You Had To Be There” into the top 10 developing songwriters began asking Barbara for feedback and advice. This led to her career as a teacher, offering one-on-one consultations and hosting the popular “Play for Publishers” workshops.

Barbara’s mother was a drama teacher and her father was a politician, so she inherited a love for performing on the stage and for working with people behind the scenes. After getting a degree in Theater from the University of Iowa, Barbara says, “Being an actress didn’t seem like a secure career so I became a musician instead.” She bought a four channel Peavy PA and spent a few years playing cover tunes in clubs in her hometown, St. Louis, Mo.

She had written songs since high school and the crowds seemed to like the originals she worked into her sets. Fate intervened when one day a young girl was selling magazines door to door and Barbara bought a subscription to one called “Songwriter Magazine.” It was an excellent publication that explained the basics of how songs got cut and it demystified the process for her. She realized that to have the kind of music career she wanted, she had to move to an industry center, and Nashville seemed like a better fit than New York or LA for a down-to-earth Midwestern girl with a love for songs that tell stories.


In 1983 fate intervened again when getting fired from a day job resulted in unemployment benefits that provided funding for the move. Barbara had never been to Nashville, didn’t know anyone there, didn’t have a job or a place to stay. She sold everything that wouldn’t fit in the car and made the five-hour drive. “Within a few days,” she says, “I knew I had finally made it home.”


Back then you could still walk up and down Music Row knocking on doors with your cassette or your guitar asking people to listen to your songs, and she quickly learned that she had no real idea how to write a hit. Feedback from publishers and ASCAP and BMI reps was helpful, but what made the most impact for her was joining the Nashville Songwriters Association (NSAI) and attending their Thursday night workshop every week. Says Barbara, “I was clueless when I came to town. NSAI is where I got a clue.”


The Bluebird Cafe was already established as the best place in town for original music and she went to the Writers Night every Sunday. One night she mentioned to the host that she had hosted open mics in St Louis and would be glad to fill in if a substitute was ever needed. In 1986 that offer led to the job of organizing and hosting the Bluebird’s Monday Open Mic, which she still does to this day.

Several years later, Barbara met her husband, Jon Robbin, a songwriter from Northern California.  “I didn’t think his writing style would be compatible with mine, but they had just fed me dinner so when he asked me about co-writing, I was too polite to say no.  I’m glad Mama taught me good manners because we ended up writing “I Guess You Had to Be There”.  That song, regarded by many as a Country Classic, became a hit for Lorrie Morgan in 1993.

With her new status as a hit songwriter, other Nashville music clubs sought her services to host writer’s nights.

Few things are more exciting to Barbara than discovering great talent. She has become widely known on Music Row for her ability to spot young writers and artists with exceptional potential and she has been able to open doors that led to successful careers for quite a few, including Bret Jones (Little Past Little Rock,” “Don’t Ask Me How I Know”), Barry Dean (“God’s Will,” “Pontoon”), Marcel (“Nothing to Lose”) and Anthony Smith (“If That Ain’t Country,” “Run”). Plus a few (like Adam James) you just haven’t heard of YET.

Maurna Donovan – Wrensong Music Publishing

Maurna Donovan works at Wrensong Music Publishing, a thriving independent music publishing company located in the heart of Music Row in Nashville, TN. Although she calls St. Paul, Minnesota her home, she was actually born in Nashville and often refers to moving back to be, “a little bit like coming home”. Maurna graduated from Creighton University with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and upon graduation, she realized the profound impact that music played on her life; a passion that she could not overlook. She packed up and moved to Nashville quickly to land a position at Wrensong in 2012.

Started in 1983, Wrensong has worked with top artists in the industry from Faith Hill to Garth Brooks; Taylor Swift to The Band Perry. Songs such as “Whiskey Lullaby” (Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss), “Better Dig Two” (The Band Perry) and “Drink On It” (Blake Shelton) have all been written by Wrensong writers. Not to mention, the 10 songs that have been featured in ABC’s Nashville.

Maurna holds many roles within the company; however, primarily focuses on orchestrating and scheduling the five songwriters at Wrensong. Whether it be arranging co-writes with other writers in the business or organizing songwriting rounds at local venues, Maurna works to ensure that Wrensong’s writers have their music heard. “It all begins with a song” is the first phrase that Maurna adopted upon moving to Nashville which has furthered her belief that music has the power to change our world, one song at a time.

Bobby Hamrick

Bobby Hamrick is part of a collaboration between EMI Music Publishing and Chris Oglesby. He studied at Belmont University where he became familiar with the Nashville music scene. Since signing as a writer in January 2011, he’s written songs with many hit songwriters including Tony Arata, Jess Cates, Michael Dulaney, Chris DeStefano, Erin Enderlin, Jerry Flowers, Jennifer Hanson, Connie Harrington, Michael Heeney, Marcus Hummon, J. Fred Knobloch, Steve McEwan, Mark Nesler, Tim Nichols, Tom Shapiro, James Slater, George Teren and Craig Wiseman.

Some of his song cuts include Sarah Darling’s “Home To Me”, Natalie Stovall’s “Baby, Come On With It”, as well as songs recorded by Rodney Atkins, Caroline Kole, Wade Bowen, Gabe Dixon, among others. He has also had his originals featured on ABC’s “The Bachelor”, CW’s “Hart of Dixie”, JC Penney, and Coca-Cola.

Joe Doyle

Joe Doyle was born in Providence, Rhode Island and raised as the youngest son of seven children in Riverside, a small town along Narragansett Bay. Music was an ever-present element in a household of six older siblings.

At age 12, Joe began taking drum lessons and after a couple of years of lessons and practice, joined a “rock and roll’ trio Crazy Fingers with school friends Gary France and Mark Miller. Throughout high school, he performed in various Providence nightclubs and University campuses. It was at Berklee College of Music in Boston that he first became introduced to jazz and the idea of learning to play guitar and piano. The inspiration to write songs soon followed. Joe was lucky enough to win a couple of songwriting competitions at Berklee, which in turn, gave him the courage to move to Nashville upon graduation and “give it a try.”

Joe was very fortunate upon his arrival in Music City in January of 1988. Country music was booming and he signed his first, exclusive publishing deal with BMG Music Publishing in April of that year, only a few penniless months after his move to Nashville.

In his twenty-seven years writing songs in Nashville, Joe’s songs have been included on numerous multi-platinum, platinum and gold albums, exceeding more than 15 Million in sales, including the #1 country single “In Pictures” and recorded by Alabama on RCA Records and the Top 10 Single “She Said Yes” recorded by Rhett Akins on Decca Records.

Other artists who’ve covered Joe’s songs include: Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Dan Seals, Joe Diffie, Deryl Dodd, Daryle Singletary, Linda Davis, Robert Ellis Orrall, Michael Ray, Mallary Hope, Tracy Byrd, current NBC’s “The Voice” winner Craig Wayne Boyd, and more.

The Mann Sisters

Sweet, family harmonies, blending together like only the voices of twin sisters can, combined with heartfelt original songs, is what you can expect to hear from The Mann Sisters.

With influences ranging from the great Everly Brothers to Simon and Garfunkle and Fleetwood Mac – Lauren and Alexandra Mann, sisters from Miami, Florida, pride themselves as up-and-coming artists, songwriters, and musicians. Lauren’s keyboards and rich vocals inhabit a haunting higher register, while Alexandra’s gritty guitar playing and vocal harmonies bring out an acoustic rock edge, that mix to create their distinctive sound.

Their performances not only mirror their love for their music, but also their love for each other. It’s clear to see how much they enjoy performing side-by-side, so in tune with each other, making for a uniquely entertaining show.

Deemed “Ones to Watch” by Music Row critic, Robert Oermann, The Mann Sisters deliver their audiences well-crafted, life-inspired original music, with tight musical performances, keeping folks captivated and coming back for more.

Bryan Edwards

Since moving to Nashville, Bryan Edwards has become one of Music City’s most accomplished independent singers, songwriters, and producers. Bryan was nominated twice for the 2013 Grammy Awards and three times for the 2014 Awards. The Florida native also earned his first major songwriting credit on Jason Aldean’s 2011 CMA Album of the Year, “My Kinda Party” as a co-writer on the song “If She Could See Me Now.”

While having written hundreds of songs with some of the best songwriters on Music Row, Bryan’s credits as an artist are quite impressive. He has performed for thousands in opening spots for some of the biggest names in country music, including Keith Urban, Charlie Daniels, Alan Jackson, Jason Aldean, Wynonna, Neil McCoy, Love & Theft, Lonestar, and Trace Adkins. Bryan continues to perform over one hundred shows a year around the country.

A member of The Recording Academy, in 2013 Bryan also became a founding member of 4 Music, a music production company. Teamed with music industry veterans with over 40 years of combined experience, 4 Music has already started producing some of Nashville’s best up and coming talent. One of the first projects 4 Music produced was Bryan’s first full-length studio album, “Taillights & Dust”, which was released in December of 2013.