I’ve known Mike Greenly for several years now and have enjoyed following the path of this very talented guy. He just might be the only former Fortune 500 VP who’s now a freelance speechwriter, PowerPoint guru and executive speech coach for corporate product launches, meetings & events. He’s received glowing tributes from such clients as Johnson & Johnson, ExxonMobil, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and many more.
Mike is also a highly regarded lyricist. He writes in many genres – pop, choral, country, dance club and more. Ten of his dance songs charted as Billboard hits and four, already, have made it to #1. A recent release about women’s equality – “LOVE YOUR OWN POWER” by powerhouse singer, Natalie Jean – has won awards on both sides of the Atlantic only a few months after its launch.
I was intrigued when I heard that Mike had branched out into yet another genre – “American Roots” – with Top 10 Billboard artist, Grant Maloy Smith. Then I had a chance to hear the song and see the video and … wow! I was impressed.
The song, “I SEE YOU” — tackles the societal prejudice of ageism.
I had to learn more about this powerful new work of musical art and social commentary. Now I’m delighted to share the result of my interview with Mike and Grant.
Eileen Shapiro: I know you do more than write lyrics. Tell me about your journey?
Mike Greenly: Well, I’ve been heavily involved with WORDS my entire life. I sounded out my first poem at age four, before I could read. In high school in South Carolina, I was the first teenaged columnist for the hometown paper. I co-wrote a column for the high school paper, too, and was editor of our class yearbook. After graduating from Duke as an English Lit. major, I took a bus up to NYC as fast as I could because I’d fallen in love with Broadway after our senior class trip. The first Broadway show I ever saw was “Bye Bye Birdie.”
After rushing up to Manhattan, though, I discovered they weren’t “hiring” playwrights. I got into corporate life just so I could afford theater tickets. Eventually I worked at Avon which, in the 1980’s, was the world’s #1 direct selling company. I was in training to become a full-time psychotherapist — talking to a psychoanalyst was another way that “words” transformed me. Before I could quit Avon, though, I was named the youngest VP in their history. My parents were so thrilled with that status that I ended up staying a few more years. I even wrote the lyrics to theme songs for Avon sales meetings back then.
Today I enjoy helping execs advance in their own careers – writing their speeches and PowerPoint presentations … coaching them and their teams in how to overcome “stage fright” and be more effective on-stage. I’d never have become a VP without learning how to speak comfortably even to 5,000 people. But words are my passion I get delight from writing lyrics.
Eileen Shapiro: How did you get connected to Grant?
Eileen Shapiro: That’s because of a wonderful songwriters’ networking group he founded with Eileen Sherman. It’s called The Indie Collaborative and they meet around the country. I’ve met a number of musicians, composers and artists that way and have had some successful songs as the result. I greatly respect Grant’s talent and I like him as a person. So one day I approached him to suggest that we work together in his genre – “American Roots” … an intriguing new style of music for me.
I love using my friends, The Words, to do what I can to improve the world in my own small way. Having suffered discrimination and prejudice as a boy, I’ve written several songs to encourage treating everyone with dignity and respect. Grant came up with the idea of a song that would show older people that they are NOT “invisible” … hence the title, “I See You”. The purpose of this song made it a no-brainer for me to say yes!
Eileen Shapiro: How do you think the general public, those 50 and under will react to the video?
Mike Greenly: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of young people who have already been moved by the video … some even sharing that they were brought to tears. Most of us remember beloved ancestors and that seems to be one of the ways younger people relate … by thinking about their elders and being able to identify personally with older people in their lives.
Based on the feedback I’ve gotten, I’m actually optimistic that many younger people will relate to the song and its message.
Eileen Shapiro: Do you believe ageism to be a major problem in our society?
Mike Greenly: I’ve experienced it first-hand. A production manager in the meetings and events business once said behind my back that she knows how good I am at what I do, but that she wanted to hire someone “younger and cuter in their 30’s.”
What she didn’t realize is that when I meet the executives, themselves, they very quickly get that I’ve lived life on their side of the desk … with experience and perspective that no 30-year-old would yet have had a chance to gain. I KNOW what it’s like to be responsible for billions of dollars in revenue.
But I’ve lost work as a result of actual ageism. It’s not only unfair but unwise. I’d love to make a difference with that!
Eileen Shapiro: Which came first – the words or the melody?
Mike Greenly: I joyfully write songs in any way my collaborators desire. Sometimes I start with an idea from a composer. Jim Papoulis – famous in the choral world – asked me to write lyrics for a song in memory of the 28 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, when a deranged gunman brutally murdered students and adults. The result is “Always My Angel.”
Sometimes I’m given just a melody. The famous historian and author, Dr. James (“Bud”) Robertson, contacted me to write lyrics so Virginia could have a state song again. The previous one – about a slave picking cotton – had been retired in the 80’s for being racist. Bud asked me to write a song to the melody of American folksong, “Oh Shenandoah” so his beloved state could have an anthem again. The result was “Our Great Virginia”, signed into law as the Official Traditional State Song in 2015.
In this case, once Grant had suggested the idea of helping older people not to feel invisible … and after listening to and loving more of his work … I was on fire to start with the lyrics! We progressed together from there.
Eileen Shapiro: How did Masterpiece Living get involved with “I SEE YOU”?
Mike Greenly: Joe McKay – the savvy author of an insightful and humorous book of essays, “Crazy About Words” – has been a close friend for decades. He now lives at Peconic Landing in Greenport, Long Island. It’s a Certified Center for Successful Aging in partnership with Masterpiece Living. As soon as Joe saw the video, he suggested that I share the song with the organization.
I immediately felt a kinship with the respect that Masterpiece Living has for the elderly and I’m excited by the work they do. They partner with groups all over the country, always encouraging older adults to age successfully, with continuing purpose and personal growth. As I know first-hand, It’s NEVER too late to be passionate about something and it’s never too late to discover new interests.
It’s extremely satisfying to know that Masterpiece Living is now working on an anti-ageism campaign for release in 2020. Beyond what I could have dreamed, they’re naming the campaign “I SEE YOU”. It’s aimed at creating more respect and support for aging adults … so they’re honored and respected instead of being invisible.
Eileen Shapiro: What are your plans moving forward?
Mike Greenly: I’m gonna keep on living my purpose – using my facility with words, spoken or written, to help executives with their careers … while continuing to work with talented partners in creating more songs for the world. I’m a happy camper!
Eileen Shapiro: What inspired this very touching song and video?
Grant Maloy Smith: I was in a mall food court in Texas a few years ago, and there was a table of older people right next to mine. They were all in their 80s and 90s. I was not trying to eavesdrop, but they were so close I couldn’t help overhearing them. One beautiful lady told the others that when she walked down the street it seemed like younger people didn’t even see her — as if she were invisible. That really hit me hard, and I filed that away in my brain. So, when Mike Greenly asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a song about older people, I immediately flashed back to that mall in Texas, and knew that such a song must include that moment. I got the idea for the title for the song from that event – I wanted older people to know that they might feel invisible, but we still see them… they are still relevant, and they still matter.
Eileen Shapiro: I understand you are involved in an ageism project, can you explain exactly what it is about?
Grant Maloy Smith: Because of this song, Mike and I have joined forces with an organization called Masterpiece Living, which is going to use our song as the centerpiece of an outreach campaign that they are undertaking right very soon. In fact, they are calling it “I See You” based on the title and the theme of our song. It is an honor for us to be part of this campaign and the good works that Masterpiece Living does in advocating for older people living well and on their own terms.
Eileen Shapiro: Why did you feel it important to make people aware of the way older people are treated?
Grant Maloy Smith: We do a great disservice to our culture when we discard the generations before us. As we say in the song, they “built the world we have today.” It’s not a secret that older people have a kind of wisdom and experience that younger people cannot. It’s a relatively new phenomenon that older people are just left by the wayside instead of embraced for what they can offer us. Our “disposable culture” tends to do that, but it’s wrong. It’s ironic and sad that as a culture, we are often less concerned about our parents and grandparents than we are about single-use water bottles.
Eileen Shapiro: Aside from this project what other projects are you involved in?
Grant Maloy Smith: I am a recording artist and touring musician, so I am always writing songs and preparing to make future albums. I perform around the country and sometimes in Europe, so that is very time-consuming but a very important part of my career. I will be performing again in a show that I and my co-founder of the Indie Collaborative, Eileen Sherman, are producing at Carnegie Hall on April 22. I am also planning a series of shows in Scotland in June and July 2020, and many other shows around the USA, from Tennessee to California and everywhere in between.
Also, last year one of my songs was turned into a children’s book, which I also illustrated. This year I wrote another song and book, and have been promoting it on radio and also at book festivals and fairs in concert with my publisher, Headline Books, the biggest independent publisher in the world. In my books I use cute possum characters that the kids enjoy to tell the stories. The new book is called “The Possumbilties Are Endless” – and it’s meant to inspire kids to think about what they might like to do when they grow up. I am pleased that my books have won many awards, including the Mom’s Choice Award Gold Prize for children’s books, and many others. Since each book has a song that goes with it, I have created videos that the kids enjoy watching. They’re on my Youtube channel and my website at https://www.grant-maloy-smith.com
And as if that weren’t enough, I am working on two new albums: one will be an American Roots theme record called “Appalachia – American Stories,” and the other will be a country album that I have not named yet. I am very excited about both of them. This time I decided to bring my fans into the process and let them get their name into the album itself by buying a copy in advance. This has been working really great. Who doesn’t want their name inside a music album for all posterity? There’s more about this on my website at https://www.grant-maloy-smith.com/Music/Albums/Appalachia/
Eileen Shapiro: How did you and co-writer Mike Greenly get together?
Grant Maloy Smith: I met Mike when he came to the very first Indie Collaborative showcase that we held on June 8, 2015. He was a lyricist looking for composers to collaborative with. And he found one that very night, and has found several others from within our group since then, including more recently ME! We put the word “collaborative” in the name of our group very intentionally – we wanted it to be a place where indie musicians and industry pros could find other like-minded people. Sort of like the peanut butter finding the jelly — putting together combinations of people that work great together.
With the Indie Collaborative, we have built an organization of more than 2000 indie musicians and music industry professionals in less than five years. I invite all musicians to join us at https://www.indiecollaborative.com/Join
It’s free! And you can have your profile on our website, which will help your search results to your website and social media – something that is very important today. When you join you can also join our private Facebook group, and have your music added to our Spotify playlists.
Eileen Shapiro: If you could have me ask you any question on the planet what would it be and how would you answer?
Grant Maloy Smith: Why did you become a musician?
When I was very young, I was influenced by two different worlds: the roots music that my Grammy from east Kentucky loved, and the popular music that my friends were listening to. I couldn’t decide between them – I loved them both. In my youth I was playing rock music. But as I got older, I went back to my East Kentucky roots, which extend back at least 10 generations. Besides being what I really love, it fits my age better — you can’t be 50+ years old and acting like a teenage pop star. Roots and country music is where I belong for any number of reasons, and I love it here. This music speaks to the heart, and it’s extremely “musical.”
Eileen Shapiro: Tell me about yourself?
Grant Maloy Smith: My focus today is being a full-time musician, and occasional artist when I create another children’s book in the series that I have started. These are the things that I plan to do for the rest of my life. But in earlier years I was in sales and marketing in the scientific measuring instrument world, a highly technical field that requires a lot of engineering and application knowledge. I was able to start my own company and run it for 20 years. In that role I traveled not just the USA but all around the world. Those experiences have really shaped me as the writer and person that I am today. I am also a third-degree black belt in Okinawan karate, and was a teacher at my school for about 15 years. That was a very fulfilling experience, too, and I hope to get back to it when I have more time. But I still practice my kata and keep limber. It’s very good for performing (and life in general) to be stretching and in shape generally. Karate is all about focus, and this helps you no matter what you do. Also, I am very proud of my family. My wife Susan and I have three great “kids” who are all now in the 20s or early 30s. They’re all wonderful people, and each is unique in their own ways. It’s a blessing.