20th Annual John Lennon Scholarship Winners Announced

Published: 09.18.2017

Above: Pictured (L-R): 2017 John Lennon Scholarship Winners; Top: Taylor Fernandez, James Mullany, Bottom: Bethany Warner, Jacalyn Thompson and Chelsea Gilliland

The winners of the BMI Foundation’s 20th Annual John Lennon Scholarships, a program that recognizes the nation’s best and brightest young songwriters between the ages of 17 and 24, were announced today by Samantha Cox, Vice President of the BMI Foundation and Director of the competition. The John Lennon Scholarships were established by Yoko Ono in 1997, in conjunction with the BMI Foundation, and honor the memory of one of the preeminent songwriters of the twentieth century. The program has been made possible through generous donations from Ono in cooperation with  Gibson Musical Instruments.

The $10,000 first place award was presented to Taylor Fernandez for her song “Tomorrow Will Be Yesterday” and split equally with her co-writing partner, and fellow New York University student, James Mullany. Belmont University student Bethany Warner took home the second place prize of $5,000 for her song “$mall Talk & Old Money.” Lipscomb University student Jacalyn Thompson and Belmont University student Chelsea Gilliland tied for third place and were awarded $2,500 each for their songs, “Wanted” and “Fire”, respectively. 

“Winning first place in the John Lennon Scholarship is a huge honor that James and I both feel incredibly proud to have won,” said Fernandez. “It’s an amazing feeling to have our hard work recognized and it makes me excited to keep writing and releasing more music as soon as possible!”

Hundreds of students representing schools from all over the country participated in this year’s competition. The judging panel included Rich Christina, Sr. VP & Head of East Coast A&R at Sony ATV Music Publishing; Jason Jordan, Sr. VP of A&R at Republic Records/Universal Music Group; Justin Kalifowitz, CEO of Downtown Music Publishing; Jeremy Levin, Manager and Mega House Music Co-Founder; and Jake Ottmann, Sr. VP of A&R at Warner/Chappell Music.

The John Lennon Scholarships competition annually awards up to $20,000 for the three best original song submissions. More than $400,000 has been awarded over the last 19 years to students from colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Listen to this year’s award winning songs below:

About the Winners

Taylor Fernandez, a.k.a Dezi, is a 21-year-old artist, songwriter, and producer based in New York City. She began her career as a musician at the age of eleven, and by thirteen, she was performing at the largest festivals in the state of Michigan. She continued performing throughout high school, eventually organizing and embarking on a successful tour of her home state at the age of seventeen. Shortly after turning eighteen, she moved to New York to attend the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she studies recorded music. With over 200 shows over the span of her career, and countless collaborations with a wide range of artists and producers, she remains dedicated to creating a sound that can be performed all over the extensive and diverse New York City music scene.

James Mullany, a.k.a. j.mulay, is an upcoming producer/songwriter coming out of Tisch's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. His music is a blend of neo soul, jazz, and hip hop with a signature experimental sound to its production. As both a singer and a producer, his music often includes a unique layering of his own vocals. He will be releasing two new singles this fall and is currently working on his debut EP, which will be released at the beginning of 2018.

Bethany Ann Warner is a 19 year old singer/songwriter originally from Houston, Texas. Previously classically trained at Baylor University, Warner is currently in Nashville as she studies contemporary voice and songwriting at Belmont University. She most recently released her self-produced EP entitled Suburb Glow along with three self-directed music videos, available now where digital music is sold.

“I specifically remember the moment I clicked submit on this scholarship, and I thought "There's no way I will win, but I have to try," so winning is so refreshingly validating for me as a songwriter,” said Warner. “To have your work held under a microscope by some of the most gifted in the industry and then to receive praise for it is so unexpected and such an incredible feeling. Not only that, but it truly is allowing me to continue my education at Belmont financially which I am forever grateful for.”

Jacalyn Thompson is a Nashville-based songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist. Originally from Cypress, TX, Thompson strives to create songs that nod to her classic Americana/pop roots while writing the music of tomorrow. A senior in Lipscomb University's Contemporary Music program, she will release her debut EP as a solo artist in early 2018.

“A huge thank you to the BMI Foundation,” said Thompson. “I'm grateful for the opportunity to share this song and have it recognized in this year’s John Lennon Scholarship competition.”

Chelsea Gilliland is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, and freshman at Belmont University, majoring in Songwriting. Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, Gilliland moved to and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been a vocalist and guitarist in two local bands over the last 5 years. In 2016, she reached the third round of American Idol XV. Her music can be found on all digital music outlets, with her most recent album “Daydream” set to debut on September 20th.

“I am incredibly honored to be a recipient this year,” said Gilliland. “Just being part of the BMI Foundation’s amazing history and legacy is very special to me, not to mention the scholarship will make a meaningful difference to my Belmont University tuition. Being selected by this top tier judging panel is certainly a major highlight in my songwriting career, and I am thankful to the BMI Foundation for all of its support for musicians around the world.”

About the BMI Foundation

The BMI Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 to encourage the creation, performance, and study of American music. The Foundation’s programs include competitive scholarships for songwriters and composers, operating grants for nonprofit arts presenters, and support for innovative music education initiatives in schools and communities across the country. For more information about the work of the Foundation, please visit our website at For exclusive news and content, follow @bmifoundation on Twitter and  Instagram, and like “BMI Foundation” on Facebook at