Even though Brett James might not be a household name, his songs are.
His song "You Won't Be Lonely Now" became a top-20 single for country music singer Billy Ray Cyrus. In 2007, he received the Grammy Award for best country song "Jesus Take The Wheel," recorded by Carrie Underwood.
James, along with fellow Grammy Award winners Rivers Rutherford and Chris Destefano, will perform April 28 at the College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn, as part of the show Music City Hit-Makers. They will be playing with a live symphony orchestra, and James' first cousin, Jeffrey Dixon, of Dixon Strings in Chicago, is handling booking the back-up musicians and also will play violin in the show.
The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $48, available online by visiting atthemac.org or calling the MAC Box Office at 630-942-4000. A MAC chat will precede the concert beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Suburban Life reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to James about the upcoming show:
Schelkopf: Of course, as part of this concert, you are going to have a symphony orchestra back you guys. What do you think this type of format does for the songs?
James: Well, you know, it's a pretty original thing. I don't think it had ever been done before, before we started doing it five or six years ago. ... It's the idea of Charles Dixon. He received his master's from Northwestern University, and he's also my cousin. He saw me do some songwriters in the round shows, and he kind of had the idea to put a symphony behind it. ... It really kind of showcases the song in a totally unique way. It kind of gets the songwriters out of our comfort zone a little bit. ... We will be telling the stories behind the songs and give the audience a glimpse into what it's like to be a professional songwriter. A lot of people don't even know that's a thing, that it's a real job. ... It makes for a really fun night. I'm going to have two cousins on stage that night – Charles and Jeff. It's going to be a full-on family affair that night.
Schelkopf: On the website for Music City Hit-Makers, it says, "The most famous people you've never heard of." Do you think that a lot of people just assume that because an artist sang a song that they wrote it as well?
James: I think that's really common among most listeners. And that's fine with us. As songwriters, we don't care. ... What's great about that for us is that we get to have lives. We get to be locally famous. ... Nashville is a songwriters' town, so we get to be famous in Nashville and kind of nowhere else. But we're totally fine with that. ... Sometimes younger people get inspired to want to do what we do. They didn't know that was an option. Maybe they're not the greatest singer in the world, or they don't look or act like a pop star. ... A lot of times, you find people come up and say, "Wow, you really inspired me to try to write songs."
Schelkopf: Any dream projects or collaborations?
James: Oh, I have lots of them. But I've gotten to do a lot of them too. I've gotten to work with Bon Jovi and Steven Tyler. And I've gotten to work with a lot of the pop stars that I love, like Kelly Clarkson and some of the rock bands that I love. ... I've gotten to do a lot of crazy stuff. I would like to have George Strait sing one of my songs. He's had over 60 No. 1 songs. ... He's kind of a legend, and he's still making records.
If you go
What: Music City Hit-Makers show
When: 7:30 p.m. April 28
Where: McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn
Info: atthemac.org, 630-942-4000