SongwritingWith:Soldiers (SW:S), based in Nashville, TN, is an outreach organization that helps military veterans share their experience and tell their story by working with professional songwriters. Country music legend and Texas native singer/songwriter, Radney Foster, has been collaborating with soldiers on songs since its inception in 2012. He recently talked to us about this unique organization and his participation in it.
Meaning and Purpose
Foster says SW:S has been an instrumental force of change in so many lives including his own. It’s an organization he’s been involved with since its beginning because of its mission to help veterans deal with or overcome the after-effects of combat. Foster says, “SW:S pairs professional songwriters with combat veterans who have wounds seen and unseen. The songs we write provide a catharsis to the pain and suffering they have or are continuing to endure. It’s a privilege, for me, to work with these veterans every time. My dear friend Darden Smith, who is the co-founder of SW:S, asked me and songwriter Jay Clementi to go on the very first retreat. To this day, I regularly serve as a songwriter with the veterans, and Jay is now the Music Director.”
Angel Flight is a haunting song, released in 2008, that soon became an internet sensation and led to the foundation of SW:S. “I have written a lot of songs in my life, but some of the most powerful I’ve ever written have come from SW:S collaborations. It is amazing to watch veterans come into these retreats and leave a different person. I’m always grateful to play a small role in someone’s healing.”
More needs to be done to help veterans with issues affecting them long after they leave the battlefield. “These veterans have sacrificed so much for our country. Songwriting gives them a chance to tell their stories. That is really important. We haven’t done a great job as a society in supporting our vets and their mental health upon returning from combat. This program shines a light on the struggles many veterans are facing and it also helps with the healing process.”
Providing an Outlet
In 2022, SW:S served 825+ veterans and their families through direct programming; delivered 113 collaborative songwriting sessions; hosted nine weekend retreats and held four online collaborative writing sessions; turned more than 160 stories into songs and shared them online and at outreach concerts; celebrated its 10th anniversary with three outreach concerts (NYC, Boston, and Luckenbach); and has written its 1,000th song.
“SW:S has certainly changed my life. I have an awareness of veterans and an empathy for their problems post combat that I didn’t have before. You spend several hours walking through their trauma, musically laying those memories out. It’s a private look at a secret pain. I get to watch some weight being lifted from them. I always tell them to listen to the song when they need it and let it hold the ache. It’s a powerful moment.”
“Let me share with you some veteran stories from our Music Director, Jay Clementi:
‘A mother of five, US Army Veteran Michelle, had tried to end her life…more than once. We found this out through the song she wrote with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, Bonnie Bishop, during a retreat. Michelle came to the retreat stoic and closed off, but after the first session, she began to open up. She eventually wrote a song titled Five Reasons sharing that her five children are the reason she keeps going. Everyone at the retreat could see the relief and renewed sense of purpose in Michelle’s eyes as the retreat came to an end.’
“This past fall Don joined us in Belton, TX, for the 10th Anniversary retreat. He recently shared, ‘The longer I am away from the fantastic experience with Songwriters with Soldiers…the more I appreciate what happened that weekend!’ An affirmation of what we all hope for from a retreat, a lasting impact on our participants’ lives that shapes the way they move through the world. We look forward to being able to serve more deserving veterans in 2023!”
If you would like more information about SW:S or want information on how you can become involved, please visit their website.
Cover photo courtesy SongwritingWith:Soldiers
Bob Valleau is a freelance writer living in McKinney, Texas.