Eliza Spear ’22 wins ASCAP songwriting award

ASCAP is the largest performing rights organization in the world, supporting composers and songwriters.

Eliza Spear ’22 is the recipient of an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers award for socially significant songwriting for “If I Don’t Try,” an original song she released this summer to promote work toward racial equity and justice.

Spear and co-writers Lindsay Gitter and Rachael Williams were awarded the 2020 ASCAP Foundation Jay Gorney Award — named for the songwriter of the Depression-era anthem “Brother can you Spare a Dime?” A panel of judges selected “If I Don’t Try” for its message of social conscience, craft, artistry and compositional elements, ASCAP said in a release. Only unsigned songwriters are eligible for the award.

Spear began composing the song this spring after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. She recorded a version of it and was prepared to release it when George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.

“I knew I needed to put more thought into it,” Spear said.

She rewrote the song about 10 times with Gitter and Williams’ help, soliciting input from friends and strangers alike on social media, meticulously crafting the lyrics to be as precise and heartfelt as possible. Spear normally revises songs a few times, but was especially conscious of her perspective as a white woman singing about issues affecting Black Americans.

“I wanted to express my perspective, which is very much a white perspective. The question we ask ourselves is: Who am I to get involved? Who am I to try? But who am I if I don’t try? We have to keep pushing ourselves.”

The song ends with the simple statement, “I’ll learn from you, now.”

Associate Professor of Music Todd Coleman called Spear’s work “thoughtful and beautiful.”

“She cares and feels deeply, and that is evident in the themes of her music,” Coleman said. “She has written a number of songs that deal with difficult issues in society from perspectives of empathy and action, searching for change and healing.”

Proceeds from “If I Don’t Try” and related merchandise are going to the Loveland Foundation, which provides healthcare and services for communities of color, and especially Black women and girls.

Hear “If I Don’t Try” below: