21st Annual John Lennon Scholarship Winners Announced

Published: 06.28.2018

Above: 2018 John Lennon Scholarship Winners; Top: Kezia Warioba, Tommy Olimpiada, Bottom: Erika Daves, Ryan Murray and SaraJane McDonald

The winners of the BMI Foundation’s 21st 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 Cal Poly Pomona student Kezia Warioba for her song “Sapphire” and split equally with her co-writing partner Tommy Olimpiada. Lipscomb University student Erika Daves took home the second place prize of $5,000 for her song “No Room For You.” Ryan Murray, who will be attending Drexel University in the fall, and Belmont University student Sara Jane McDonald tied for third place and were awarded $2,500 each for their songs, “Come Out Maria” and “Working Class Woman”, respectively. Click here to hear the winning tracks.  

“I feel so honored and grateful to have won this scholarship,” said Warioba. “But more than anything, I feel validated as an artist and glad that people think highly of my work.”

Adds Olimpiada,“Receiving this award is a complete honor. Kezia and I are incredibly dumbfounded that we won, and more so glad that people like our song. For anyone who’s passionate about their art, any type of validation is a breath of fresh air – and this is a suffocating amount of validation.”

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; Evan Lipschutz, formerly VP of Warner Chappell; 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 20 years to students from colleges and universities throughout the United States.

About the Winners

Kezia Warioba, a.k.a KEZIA, is a 19 year-old recording artist based in the Bay Area, and a first-year music industry study major at Cal Poly Pomona. She started taking voice and guitar lessons at the age of 10 and continued on to build her on-stage experience through shows within the Bay Area’s underground art scene and live band performances. KEZIA got her start recording with Thomas Jordan at a home studio run out of his bedroom – where the two also recorded “SAPPHIRE”. Her influences include Drake, XXXTentacion, Paramore, Frank Ocean and Aaliyah. KEZIA is currently working on her debut project Persephone.

Tommy Olimpiada, a.k.a. Thomas Jordan, is a 23 year-old electronic music producer from the Bay Area and a current student at Napa Valley College. He is a self-taught musician, learning songs on piano at a young age from YouTube tutorials, and eventually discovered FL Studio. Jordan started recording songs with friends over his beats and soon turned it from a hobby into a passionate career as a producer. He stumbled across KEZIA and together they recorded “SAPPHIRE” inside his bedroom studio. His influences are Nujabes, Kanye West, Frank Ocean and Pharrell Williams. He is currently working with KEZIA on her project Persephone.

Erika Daves is a Nashville-based singer, songwriter and recording artist. She is a member of the sibling trio Daves Highway and has performed hundreds of shows since she was nine years old. An accomplished musician originally from Brandon, Mississippi, Erika moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music with her brother and sister. She is a senior songwriting major in the Contemporary Music Program at Lipscomb University.

“I entered this scholarship with hope but no expectation,” said Daves. “To be among the winners encourages me to work even harder. I am truly living the dream!”

Ryan Murray grew up on rock music and quickly developed a passion for playing the guitar at a very young age. By 14, Ryan had discovered his love for singing and played his first show at a local sports bar, and by 15 had assembled a pop/rock cover band playing throughout the Philadelphia region. It wasn’t until his entry into his sophomore year of high school that Ryan developed a passion for home recording and began taking his songwriting seriously.  Since then, Ryan has received thousands of streams/views, has written jingles for major Philadelphia radio stations, and has performed in numerous bars along the Jersey Shore, in NYC, and throughout Philadelphia. Ryan plans to study Music Industry at Drexel University beginning in the fall.

“Winning this award is such an honor for me,” said Murray. “It’s a really awesome feeling to be recognized for my hard work. All I want is to be involved in the music industry, and I hope this award can help me on that journey.”

SaraJane McDonald was born and raised in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and doesn’t just sing about farmer’s daughters – she is one. Her original songs are a reflection of her humble, hard working family values which are a direct result of her every day, real life experiences on the McDonald’s bustling turkey and cattle farm. In August of 2017, McDonald moved to Nashville, TN to study Songwriting at Belmont University. She spends her days in class and her nights either networking or playing music. With performances under her belt opening for acts such as Jon Pardi, Runaway June, and Sister Hazel, she is now tackling downtown Broadway as well as the local songwriting scene in Nashville. SaraJane has released both a full album and an EP, and she currently has new music in the works.

“Winning this award absolutely shocked me,” said McDonald. “As a songwriter, it feels so good for people to like my lyrics enough to select me as one of this year’s recipients! Thank you so much to everyone at the BMI Foundation, Yoko Ono and Gibson Musical Instruments for supporting me, my music and my education.”



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