Alumna honored for career achievement; students meet with industry pros
LAS VEGAS — Middle Tennessee State University assembled several of its Nevada alumni Saturday to celebrate the nine former students nominated for Grammy Awards this year — and singled one of them out for career achievement.
Maria Elisa Ayerbe, who graduated from MTSU in 2015 with a master’s degree in recording arts and technologies, is among the artists included in this year’s Best Latin Pop Album category for engineering fellow Colombian Paula Arenas’ album, “Mis Amores.”
“Maria’s amazing body of work, and the many accolades she has earned, speaks volumes of the enormous impact she is making in the music industry,” said Dean Beverly Keel of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment. “We are proud to add our voices to the chorus singing her praises.”
Ayerbe, fresh off a 2021 Latin Grammys quadruple nomination for her producing, engineering and songwriting on “Mis Amores,” has worked for more than a decade in recording, mixing, music production and audio post-production.
“Not only as a former student, but also as a Colombian, who emigrated to the U.S just to do this program, (it’s an honor to have) the ability to carry MTSU’s name everywhere I go and for people to be able to recognize that,” she said.
“The name comes to you with a distinction and a honor and it passes onto you. It’s formidable.”
An active member of the Recording Academy, Ayerbe is board governor and chair of the Producers and Engineers Wing for the organization’s Florida chapter. She was included in the 2019 class of Leading Ladies of Entertainment by the Latin Recording Academy and has worked projects with multiple Grammy honorees.
She has taught courses in audio production at universities in Colombia and the United States, including MTSU. This week, she took time to share insights with students from MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry attending the Grammys.
“I am so excited for our students to hear how Maria Elisa evolved from the MTSU classroom to the Grammys,” Keel said at the MTSU Alumni Association reception at Able Baker Brewing. “This will encourage them to dream bigger and work harder.”
Sam Long, a senior majoring in commercial songwriting from Fairview, Tennessee, agreed with the dean.
“As a songwriter, one of the most important things to me, besides the craft, is building relationships with other writers and industry folks — something we haven’t been able to do the last few years,” Long said. “This trip has given us the opportunity to make those connections.”
MTSU also cheered for its eight other alumni in this year’s nominee class, many of whom stopped by Saturday’s reception. They are
• Multi-Grammy winner Tony Castle, a 1995 Recording Industry graduate who’s ridden into the winner’s circle twice before for engineering icon Willie Nelson’s projects. He’s back among the best traditional pop vocal album nominees this time with “That’s Life,” Nelson’s second tribute collection of Frank Sinatra’s music. Castle’s also a nominee for the top traditional blues album for engineering Blues Traveler’s latest release, “Traveler’s Blues.”
• Billy Hickey, a 2006 recording industry production and technology alumnus who was nominated for three Grammys for his work on Ariana Grande’s 2019 release, “thank u, next.” He returns to the list of best pop vocal album Grammy nominees this year for his work on Grande’s “Positions.”
• 1994 recording industry graduate F. Reid Shippen, who brought home his fifth career Grammy for engineering Gloria Gaynor’s 2019 best roots gospel album. The current and now two-time Academy of Country Music Audio Engineer of the Year will return to the Grammy nominees’ circle this time with country standout Mickey Guyton, whose 2021 release, “Remember Her Name,” is nominated for best country album.
• The current best country album Grammy winners for their work on Miranda Lambert’s “Wildcard,” 2000 recording industry alumnus Jason A. Hall and 2014 audio production grad Jimmy Mansfield are nominated in the same category again this year for engineering the Brothers Osborne’s “Skeletons.”
• 2000 School of Music alumnus Wayne Haun, a producer/songwriter, multi-award winner and repeat Grammy nominee who often has multiple projects competing in the same award categories. He’s in this year’s best roots gospel album category again with his longtime collaborators Ernie Haase & Signature Sound and their newest album, “Keeping On.”
• 2003 graduates Ceylon Wise and Ashley Brooks Wise, who created an educational YouTube channel with their young sons and are part of the best children’s music album-nominated compilation, “All One Tribe.” The project features 24 family music artists, known collectively as “1 Tribe Collective,” who aim to educate, encourage and inspire Black children. Ceylon Wise earned his degree in audio production, and Ashley Wise’s degree from the School of Music is in music performance.
At a lunch before Saturday’s reception, students also huddled with three other industry pros for real-world insight: Mike Molinar, head of Big Machine Music and the 2021 College Wall of Fame recipient; B.J. Hill, vice president of Warner Chappell Music in Nashville; and Laura Veltz, who was recently hailed by an industry publication as “one of our most important songwriters.”
Meanwhile, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Keel connected Saturday morning with industry leaders, including artist manager Fletcher Foster, a Recording Industry trustee; Leslie Fram, senior vice president of Country Music Television; alumna Traci Thomas, manager of Grammy nominee Jason Isbell; and alumna Alecia Warwick, who heads the Recording Industry’s Nashville chapter.
The 64th annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 3, on CBS and Paramount+.
— Andrew Oppmann (Andrew.Oppmann@mtsu.edu)