Songs for Social Change Contest Winners Announced

The annual contest offers a combined total of $10,000 in awards for the winning songs.

May 17, 2022

Berklee's Songwriting Department has announced the results of the 2022 Songs for Social Change Contest. Participating songwriters who received awards, performed in the contest showcase, or were acknowledged as SoundCloud playlist selections and judges’ shout-outs hail from 16 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, as well as Ukraine, Spain, Russia, the Philippines, Norway, Mexico, India, Colombia, Canada, and Argentina. 

The contest, which has been held annually since 2008, encourages Berklee students to write songs expressing their convictions about social issues and promoting positive social change. A selected group of students performed their submissions as part of the annual Songs for Social Change Showcase at the Red Room at Cafe 939 on April 22. Recognized songs can be heard on the contest's annual SoundCloud playlist, curated by the Songwriting Department.


Te'Zhuen Watson

Te’Zhuen Watson

Image courtesy of the artist

Te’Zhuen Watson, First Place

Te'Zhuen Watson, who goes by the artist name TA3, is a double major in music business/management and performance with a minor in recording and production for musicians from Lumberton, New Jersey. He won first place in this year’s contest for his song “When They See Us,” which addresses various aspects of racism in the United States.

“I wrote ‘When They See Us’ to confront and dispel some of the harsh narratives that exist regarding Black people,” said Watson. “Whether it's blatant racism or coded micro-aggressions, society constantly downplays the achievements and contributions of Black Americans. I wrote this song to help the world fully recognize us for all of who we are, as opposed to being treated like all we are made out to be.”


Kate Johnson

Kate Johnson

Image courtesy of the artist

Kate Johnson, Second Place

Second-place winner Kate Johnson, who goes by the artist name Kate Jay, is a songwriting major from Spring Lake, Michigan. Their submission, “House on Fire,” focused on the climate crisis, a topic that resonated among many artists who participated in the contest this year.

“The song is essentially my fears, anxiety, and uncertainty about what could happen if there isn’t adequate climate action taken,” she said. “In my song, Earth becomes insupportable to human life, and a small number of people need to figure out a way to leave.”


Michelle Perkins-Zalik

Michelle Perkins-Zalik

Image by Emily Whiting

Michelle Perkins-Zalik (with Cowriter Zachary Simon), Third Place

Perkins-Zalik, this year's third-place winner, is a professional music major from Vancouver, Canada. Her cowriter Zachary Simon is a film scoring major from Woodbridge, Connecticut. Perkins-Zalik’s song “James” focuses on bystander ignorance of the homeless population.

“‘James’ was inspired by an experience I had in Symphony Community Park in Boston, where I witnessed a homeless man having a medical emergency,” she said. “It was the middle of the day and many people were passing through, but no one stopped to help him. People carried on as if he didn’t exist. We wrote this song to encourage the public to reflect on how society treats the homeless population and how they can make a difference.”


About the Contest 

The Songs for Social Change contest, originally established by a gift from the Luongo family, has received endowed funding from Kevin Block-Schwenk, associate professor in the Liberal Arts and Sciences Department. Block-Schwenk has donated more than $175,000 to the contest—the largest financial donation Berklee has received from a current faculty member. He created an endowed fund to increase the top awards to $1,500 for the first-place song, $1,250 for second place, and $1,000 for third place, as well as a $500 award for songs performed in the showcase and a $200 award for songs selected for inclusion in the SoundCloud playlist. The contest thus provides over $10,000 to nearly 30 student songwriters through a detailed adjudication process involving a team of volunteer faculty judges drawn from across the college who listen to over 100 entries submitted each year.

“I’ve been involved with the contest since its beginnings in 2008. Each year, themes of social change and social justice speak more strongly to our student songwriters,” said Mark Simos, Songs for Social Change faculty facilitator. “The influence of the annual showcases, the recognition provided by the awards, and steady faculty support—such as incorporating projects into classes for feedback and discussion—has helped to increase the quality, depth, and diversity of each year’s roster of songs.”

“A unique aspect of this contest is that it is open-themed: Students write about the topics that speak to them, whether from personal, lived experience or from their empathy for the situations and struggles of others," Simos continued. "Each year’s showcase provides a kind of time capsule, reflecting an amazing breadth of issues, songwriting styles, and approaches. That makes the task of judging the songs difficult yet incredibly rewarding: an exercise in inquiry and collaboration, not unlike the creative work of the songwriters themselves.”

2022 Songs for Social Change Contest Winners

Award Songs

  • First place: “When They See Us,” Te’Zhuen Watson (Lumberton, New Jersey)
  • Second place: “House on Fire,” Kate Johnson (Spring Lake, Michigan)
  • Third place: “James,” Michelle Perkins- Zalik (Vancouver, Canada) and cowriter Zachary Simon (Woodbridge, Connecticut)

Showcase Songs

  • “Latinos,” Stephanie Acosta (Bogotá, Colombia)
  • “P-T-S-Deja Vu,” Megan Coffey (Los Angeles, California)
  • “Simple y Natural,” Daniela Gómez Munguía (Mexico City, Mexico)
  • “Believe Me,” Melissa Hartman (Roanoke, Virginia)
  • “Lola,” Saxon Kennedy (Pembroke Pines, Florida)
  • “Breathe Easy” Manisha Maru (Mercer Island, Washington/Manila, Philippines)
  • “Isn’t She Tired?,” Audrey Pearl (Jericho, Vermont)
  • “No va,” Gerando Rojas (Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico); cowriter Nicolle Horbath (Barranquilla, Colombia)
  • “The End of the World,” Mahima Sheikhawat (Bangalore, India)

SoundCloud Playlist Songs

  • “Fine Without You,” Isabella Dimichino (Randolph, New Jersey)
  • “Wake Up,” Nicolle Horbath (Barranquilla, Colombia)
  • “Listen to Me,” Angela Morano (Mendon, Massachusetts)
  • “Damned if I Do,” Sydney Paré (Lowell, Massachusetts)
  • “Blue Skies,” Angela Partyka (Ukraine) 
  • “NoW,” Olga Popova (Russia)
  • “Someone's Daughter,” Eva Rawlings (Burlington, Vermont)
  • “Strange Philosophy,” Ingrid Saga Andersen (Sandefjord, Norway)
  • “Medicine,” Ana Schon (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
  • “Billie's Song,” Blake Teegardin (Columbus, Ohio); cowriter Jackson Slater 
  • “Poetry?,” Maya Wagner (Hillsborough, New Jersey)
  • “Burns Away,” Grace Wilson (State College, Pennsylvania)

Judges' Shout-Outs

  • Rodney Alejandro, Associate Professor, Songwriting:
    • “Love Is the Umbrella,” Lauryn VonAhnen (Kansas City, Kansas)
  • Prince Charles Alexander, Professor, Music Production and Engineering:
    • “Green Houses," Ellie Irwin (Highland Park, Pennsylvania)
  • Joe Bennett, Professor, Professional Music:
    • “Plastic Hangover,” Antonio Pérez-Coca (Madrid, Spain)
  • Dan Cantor, Associate Professor, Songwriting:
    •  “Let’s Talk,” Kayla Erhardt (Las Vegas, Nevada); cowriter Ryan Kim
  • Erin Chase, Assistant Professor, Songwriting:
    •  “Kissing Dan,” Marissa Carlin (Boston, Massachusetts); cowriter Carter-Quinn Tanis
  • Ralph Jaccodine, Assistant Professor, Music Business/Management:
    • “Cruel and Usual Punishment,” Maggie Yarborough (High Point, North Carolina)
  • Enrique Gonzalez Müller, Associate Professor, Music Production and Engineering:
    • “Worthless of Saving,” Leah Robin (Los Angeles, California)  
  • David Reiffel, Assistant Professor, Theater:
    • “What We Give,” Mary Bragg (Swainsboro, Georgia)
  • Mark Simos, Associate Professor, Songwriting:
    • “Blue Skies,” Angela Partyka (Ukraine)