Alumni in Music City are connecting and lifting up their community as they fling their green and gold afar
Trannie Stevens Anderson is living her dream. In April, the Waco native and Baylor graduate (B.B.A. ’15) scored her first number-one song on country radio with “Heart Like a Truck,” co-written and sung by Lainey Wilson. That same month, the tune was featured on a popular Ram Trucks television commercial. More recently, the country pop music duo Dan + Shay recorded another of her songs. As a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee, it doesn’t get any better.
“The Lord wired me to write songs, and I’m so thankful to be seeing the fruits of my labor.”
“Ever since I started writing songs, it’s been my dream to have a hit and hear my songs on the radio,” said Anderson. “It’s something you can only do in this city.” Anderson moved to Nashville directly after earning a Baylor degree and signed with Sony Music Publishing in 2018 — the same year she and her husband, Patrick, were married.
Long known for its thriving music scene, today Nashville is experiencing remarkable growth with a diversifying economy and a reputation as one of the nation’s most vibrant destinations for young creatives and leaders in a variety of professions.
And as is the case in cities across the country, Baylor alumni are contributing to Music City’s ascendancy, adding their green-and-gold enthusiasm and ambition to the local community.
Bears Helping Bears
Anderson’s success has been accompanied by an abundance of gratitude — and a little help from the extended Baylor Family.
“The Lord wired me to write songs, and I’m so thankful to be seeing the fruits of my labor,” she said. “It’s just a sweet season right now.”
Growing up in a household of Baylor fans, Anderson cheered along at football games and patiently waited for candy along the Homecoming parade route. When Anderson graduated, the family of a college friend offered to let her live with them in Nashville for a year while breaking into professional circles.
“That was such a blessing,” Anderson said. “Their generosity allowed me to focus on writing a lot more than I would’ve been able if I’d had to work a full-time job. Then several of my friends from Baylor moved to Nashville, so it was great to have people around with similar values and backgrounds. Overall, Baylor has been central to my Nashville story.”
The same Waco-Baylor-Nashville network has played an important role the life of Jim Beavers, B.B.A. ’90, helping him thrive personally and professionally.
“Baylor and Waco certainly have a lot to do with me finding my way in the music business,” said Beavers, a third-generation Baylor graduate. “I say Waco because I played in country bands during my time at Baylor. We played all the clubs and bars around Central Texas, most notably the Melody Ranch off the Circle.”
Baylor was a big part of his family’s story, with his father playing football for the Bears. After majoring in business and broadcasting, Beavers discovered that his talents and Baylor roots were easily transplanted to Nashville, where he moved to pursue a career on the business side of music.
Following executive stints at both Capitol and Virgin Records, Beavers is now affiliated with Sony Music Publishing and has co-written songs with both Anderson and fellow Baylor alum Brett James, B.S. ’91. Along the way, he earned an M.B.A. from Vanderbilt.
“Lots of meaningful and consistent Baylor connections are still a big part of my life,” Beavers said. “In my opinion, Baylor grads almost always tend to be high-caliber, quality people.”
In fact, when Anderson first moved to Nashville, Beavers was glad to help her find her footing in the city. And now those Baylor connections are extending into the future; Beavers and his wife, Rachel, are the proud parents of a current Baylor student.
Since 2002, Beavers has focused primarily on songwriting. The performers who have recorded his songs — and turned them into nine number-one hits — consist of a who’s who in country music, ranging from Tim McGraw and Chris Stapleton to Brad Paisley and Faith Hill. He recently served as chairman of the Country Music Association (CMA) board of directors, and his compositions have received multiple CMA, ACM, BI and NSAI nominations and awards.
Lifting Their Voices
Another Bear who calls Nashville home — and has discovered it to be a vibrant community — is Laura Brown Cooksey, B.M. ’01, whose husband, Kyle, B.B.A. ’03, is a fellow Baylor graduate.
“There’s a great Baylor presence in Nashville, and I always get excited when I get to work with a fellow Baylor Bear.”
A full-time session singer and worship artist for over 18 years, Cooksey also has served as a worship leader for such national conferences as Women of Faith and toured as a background and featured soloist for artists including Natalie Grant, Mandisa and Michael W. Smith.
“There’s a great Baylor presence in Nashville, and I always get excited when I get to work with a fellow Baylor Bear,” Cooksey said.
In addition to singing on numerous television recordings, Cooksey has been in demand for both studio and live vocal contracting. The company she co-owns, TenTwoSix Music Group, boasts such contracting credits as Disneyland, Andrea Bocelli, Katy Perry, Blake Shelton and others.
Her Baylor classmates may remember Cooksey as part of the Christian music group Sign of Jonah. While fondly looking back on that experience, the Atlanta, Georgia, native said what most prepared her for success were the intensive music classes she took.
“They really gave me a well-rounded education in music and performance,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times, as either a session singer in Nashville or as a vocal contractor, I draw on my classical vocal training and choral music background.”
A big part of Cooksey’s life has been her church home in suburban Nashville — the Church of the City. An active part of its music ministry, she has contributed to worship services and released a few songs with the church, including a Christmas single.
“It’s a really special and sweet worship community,” Cooksey said. “I love serving there.”
Across his almost three-decade career so far, Brett James has been one of the most productive and versatile songwriters in the industry with 27 number one songs and more than 500 of his songs recorded by some of the biggest artists in the world, including Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood, whose Grammy-winning single “Jesus, Take the Wheel” was co-written by James.
Named ASCAP’s country songwriter of the year in 2006 and 2010, James was elected into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2020. He served 18 years on the board of directors of the Country Music Association, has served as a national trustee of The Recording Academy (Grammys), and is the owner of Cornman Music, a successful boutique publishing company, and Believer Artist Management.
“At Baylor, you see what top-tier people and top-tier academics look like,” James said in 2021, when he received an award from Baylor for Contributions to the Professions in Media and Arts. Today, the James family’s connection to Baylor remains even stronger through his sons Preston Cornelius, B.A. ’20, and Sam Cornelius, B.A. ’21.
“Seeing Baylor through my sons’ eyes has been such a highlight,” James said. “They made lifelong friends and had amazing experiences, and they were challenged in all the ways you want your kids challenged – academically, socially, spiritually – all the ways you want your kids to be molded.”
James works with songwriters from all generations and encourages young writers to study the craft and commit to being willing to “write a lot of bad songs” before finding their way to the great ones.