// For Immediate Release


Darden Smith, Who Co-Founded The Organization With Mary Judd In 2012, Will Remain Involved Through National Songwriting Programs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Aug. 13, 2020)SongwritingWith:Soldiers (SW:S), a nonprofit organization co-founded in 2012 by Program Director Mary Judd and Creative Director Darden Smith, has announced that longtime program collaborator and songwriter Jay Clementi will assume the newly formed position of Music Director. Smith, who is stepping down from his executive role, will continue as a board member and participate in the transformative SW:S weekend retreats and workshops that pair veterans with professional songwriters to craft songs about combat and the transition home. SW:S programs, which serve all branches of the military and are provided free of charge, have gained national attention for the positive gains experienced by participants.

“As we approach the 10th anniversary of our first retreat in 2022, this is an important milestone for the organization. It’s been a privilege to work with Darden,” said Kristin Starling, Executive Director. “It takes a wise individual to recognize that he has achieved the vision he hoped for as co-founder, and Darden’s ongoing support as an ambassador ensures his ongoing commitment to the SW:S mission.”

“There’s nothing I love more than turning a story into a song, and to collaborate with active duty military, veterans, and their families is a great honor and a gift,” said Smith, an acclaimed songwriter and musician based in Austin, Texas. “Mary and I have seen SongwritingWith:Soldiers flourish and I’m proud of it and the team we’ve gathered around the work. I look forward to always being connected and I believe that handing the reins to Jay Clementi as Music Director at this critical time will put SW:S on the best path for its future.”

Since 9/11, the U.S. has been at war longer than any time in its history. Only one percent of the U.S. population serves in the military, and many veterans find the transition back to civilian life difficult. The Veterans Administration estimates that approximately 20 veterans take their own lives each day. SW:S programs offer a safe space where authenticity and creativity are nurtured in an environment of acceptance, storytelling, and connection to promote wellness for veterans, their families, and their caregivers.

Over the past year the organization has prepared for this transition by solidifying training of highly skilled songwriters who have a long history with the program. Clementi, who has deep connections to SW:S and the Nashville community where the SW:S main office is located, is in many ways a natural choice. “I have been writing with SW:S since 2012 and proud to be a lead songwriter for the past two years,” said Clementi. “It’s truly an honor to take my commitment to the organization to the next level as Music Director, and I’m thrilled to work with Mary and Kristin to expand our programs for veterans and their families.”

Music brought Clementi to Nashville, where he found songwriting chemistry and friendship with acclaimed artist/writer Radney Foster. Clementi’s songs and voice have been featured on five Foster records. They also worked together singing harmony on Willie Nelson’s Grammy-nominated album The Songs Of Cindy Walker.

Clementi was the lead singer of The Lucky Bucks signed by Warner Brothers Records and produced by Paul Worley in 2006. Since 2008, Clementi has been a full-time songwriter/producer on staff first with Warner Chappell and now Sony ATV in Nashville. He had a Billboard #1 with Luke Bryan’s “Move” in 2017 and has had songs recorded by Dierks Bentley, Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Darius Rucker, Sunny Sweeney, The Josh Abbott Band, CB30 and a song featured on the hit show Nashville, totaling over 5 million records sold.

“It’s not often that people can come together to realize a dream and genuinely effect change,” said Judd. “It has been a great privilege to collaborate on this meaningful work that has touched so many lives. I am deeply grateful to Darden for all we have accomplished together. And now, as we head into our next decade, I am thrilled to move forward with Jay, who has worked with us since day one. I know he will inspire SW:S to new heights as Music Director.”

In response to Covid-19, hundreds of veterans and their families have participated in SW:S online community events, including online songwriting sessions, ten live streaming concerts, and more than 30 online creativity and wellness community sessions. SW:S songwriters have driven countless hours to collaborative songwriting interventions under a no-fly rule and keep veteran participants and collaborators safe.

Since 2012 SW:S has held close to 50 weekend retreats and nearly 100 Warrior PATHH collaborative songwriting sessions for 1,000+ veterans, service members, and their families, and produced over 500 songs to date. Songs are professionally recorded and participants are registered as co-writers with ASCAP. All songs can be streamed for free. An album of music written in the program, Rifles and Rosary Beads, released by artist Mary Gauthier, was nominated for a 2019 GRAMMY Award.

In the fall of 2019, PBS presented Songwriting With Soldiers, a powerful one-hour concert special that featured veterans, service members, and award-winning songwriters who came together for a night of music highlighting military veterans’ experiences. Songwriters who performed on the special included Bonnie Bishop, Gary Burr, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Jay Clementi, Radney Foster, Mary Gauthier, James House, Will Kimbrough, Georgia Middleman, Gary Nicholson, Maia Sharp, and Smith.

About SongwritingWith:Soldiers
SongwritingWith:Soldiers is an evidence-based program using collaborative songwriting as a catalyst for positive change. SW:S provides a safe space and neutral ground—nonmilitary, nontherapy, nonpolitical. Through their songs and retreat activities, participants rediscover their strengths and creativity to reconnect with family, friends, and communities with ongoing support. The songs are recorded and shared through CDs, concerts, and social media in order to bridge the divide between military and civilian communities, and build awareness of the challenges faced by our returning service members. For more information about the SongwritingWith:Soldiers program and retreats, or to make a donation, visit www.SongwritingWith:Soldiers.org, “like” songwritingwithsoldiers on Facebook, and follow songwritingwithsoldiers on YouTube, Instagram and @songwritingwith on Twitter.

Media Contacts
Christina Cassidy

David Martino