A Missouri State student inspired by her great-great-great grandfather’s service in the Civil War has won a national songwriting competition.
Emalee Flatness’s song “Carolina” won the National Endowment for the Arts Music Theatre Songwriting Challenge. Flatness began writing music in 2014, when she formed a bluegrass band named Po’ Anna.
“My high school theater director always encouraged me to expand my songwriting ventures further than bluegrass music,” Flatness said in a statement. “She made me aware of the contest, and I tentatively entered the song.”
The song chronicles the life of Arnoldus Zweerink, a Dutch immigrant who came to America at 14, and was drafted into the Union Army just after becoming a father. He was killed nine days before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House.
Flatness traveled to the gravesite of her ancestor and it encouraged her to investigate her family’s history. She wrote the lyrics to the song about three years later.
After being informed she won the contest, which Flatness said she at first “thought was a mistake,” she worked with mentors from the NEA to finish the song. She then was flown to New York to work with two Broadway performers to record the song.
“There are no words to describe being in a room with Broadway singers passionately recording a song you have put your entire life into for years,” Flatness said. “I was speechless.”
Flatness is working a full length musical about Zweerink’s life between classes to pursue a degree in history and a museum studies minor.