Photo by Yassine El Mansouri/Elman Studio
Isabel Kingsley Makes Her Kennedy Center Original Debut
Isabel Kingsley, a young singer-songwriter from the Bay Area, is currently studying Ethnomusicology at UCLA, gradually taking the musical world by storm. As the winner of the West Coast Songwriting Competition’s Youth Category and overall runner-up, Kingsley aims to create meaningful change in the songwriting industry.
Most recently, Kingsley was one of the 2023 winners of the VSA International Young Musicians’ Competition. International in scope, the competition seeks applicants from 14-25 who identify with a disability. There is no genre or instrument restriction, and applicants run the gamut, from classical violin to the Chinese Erhu. In such a crowded field, judges look for singular talent and a strong, individual voice.
“Isabel stood out from the beginning,” said Anna Wiggins of the Kennedy Center. “She was multi-talented. She was a great musician, and a great songwriter. She had a clear identity as a performer and a unique voice.”
The competition winners were awarded $2000 and traveled to the Kennedy Center for intensive workshops. Winners were then paired with a mentor specific to their oeuvre. The activities culminated in a concert of all the competition winners on July 22.
“The program is designed to help talented young people with disabilities to see themselves in the artistic world,” said Anna Wiggins. “They have a chance to perform on a great stage, and to learn about their field.”
Kingsley was paired with Olivia Frances, a Nashville-based, independent singer-songwriter known for her lush fusions of folk and country music. Kingsley shared her original music with Frances, a valuable opportunity for feedback and growth as a musician. Then the two discussed the distribution side of the music industry.
As Kingsley looks on, her path surges with new music including her latest release, Devil’s Praise. Kingsley’s hope with her upcoming EP, “You Forgot My Birthday” is to promote healthy conversation surrounding domestic and sexual abuse in academic communities. “With the release of my newest single, I aim to make a strong statement about the necessity of breaking silence, the importance of listening, and the power of collective action. Devil’s Praise is more than just a song; it's a rallying cry for change. It invites everyone—survivors, bystanders, educators, and
students—to participate actively in dismantling the culture of abuse and replacing it with one of respect, empathy, and accountability.”