Chatsworth man wins international songwriting contest

·4 min read

Apr. 4—Phillip E. Mitchell recalls that when he was very young, around 5 or 6, he was using two boom boxes to mix multitrack recordings of songs.

"I'd record a piano track on one, then turn on the cassette to play and hit record on the other one while I recorded another part," he said.

Mitchell, a Chatsworth resident, was recently named the winner of the 2021 UK Songwriting Contest in the open category for his song "Run With a Torch" (youtube.com/watch?v=MInthlQK49Q) and was a finalist in three other categories.

The UK Songwriting Contest is an international songwriting contest founded in 2002 by the BRIT Trust, a charity founded by British record companies. In all, Mitchell has placed seven times in the contest. He has also been recognized a dozen times as "One to Watch" by the Nashville Songwriters Association and has had several songs nominated for its quarterly publishers luncheon.

Performing under the name Jefferson Hyll (jeffersonhyll.bandcamp.com), Mitchell won one of the quarterly Chattanooga Songwriters Association Camp House Songwriters Stage Contests in 2019.

Winning the UK Songwriting Contest earned him admission to the International Songwriters Guild.

"I also received a media liaison and adviser, and they will pitch my winning song to contacts in the music industry," he said.

Mitchell grew up in Dalton and Chatsworth. His father, Jerome Mitchell, was the pastor at Varnell Baptist Church (1982-87) and Spring Place Baptist Church (1987-95).

"I went to Varnell Elementary and then Spring Place Elementary, Bagley Middle School and Murray County High School," he said.

Mitchell, 42, is now an associate professor of English at the University of North Georgia and music director at Faith Presbyterian Church in Blue Ridge.

"When I got into high school, my parents bought me a really nice sequencing keyboard and I wrote and recorded my first album when I was 16 or 17, a contemporary Christian music album," he said. "I played trumpet in school, and they gave me an introduction to some of the formal elements of music, and I taught myself to play piano."

After graduating from high school, Mitchell entered The Baptist College of Florida.

"I was originally planning to become a preacher," he said. "I changed my mind when I finished. I focused on literature and got my master's at the University of West Georgia, and I got my Ph.D. at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the northeast of England."

How does someone from Chatsworth end up studying in England?

"I'd been teaching at Gainesville State University, which is now part of the University of North Georgia," he said. "I was an assistant professor. I taught there for four years. But I only had a master's, and I knew I would need a Ph.D. to sustain my professional standing there. I had a British girlfriend at the time who was studying at Newcastle. I looked into their creative writing program and saw they had top poets and writings. So, I applied there and studied creative writing. I had to write a novel plus a 100-page academic dissertation as well."

He said graduate studies in a British university are different from those in an American university.

"You only do research. There are no classes at all," he said. "You just meet with your supervisor once a month. That was why I initially submitted songs to the UK Songwriting Contest, because I was over there. I wrote only a handful of songs in England because I was so focused on my novel."

Mitchell said the plot of the novel he wrote is "hard to distill."

"It's about a drug that was turning kids into zombies," he said.

"It had a Southern Gothic vibe. I think the language was more important than the plot, which made it sort of difficult to read for some people," he said with a chuckle.

He entered the UK Songwriting Contest for the first time in 2012 and earned his first finalist position.

"I entered in 2014 and got my second finalist position," he said. "I got another finalist position in 2016. I got several semifinalist positions. I didn't enter for several years after that. I decided to enter last year and did better than I have ever done."

Mitchell said he has entered songs in a number of different styles.

"I've written jazz and rock and Great American Songbook," he said. "The song that won has sort of a Disneyesque musical theater vibe." Mitchell said his recording of his song "I'm Thinking of Snowfall" (youtu.be/1Shbp7N_r1Q) rose to No. 47 on the holiday charts on iTunes last year.

"I also have a publishing deal with Perpetual Music Group for instrumentals," he said.

Mitchell said his church and close friends have been very supportive of his musical efforts. He now teaches at the University of North Georgia's Blue Ridge campus and lives in Chatsworth.

"I have friends and a nephew still in this area, and I wanted to get back to people I'm close to," he said.