By Bonnie Bucy
Acclaimed, award-winning songwriter and author, Thornton Cline, who founded and teaches the internationally renowned Nashville Suzuki Players at Cumberland University, had his first book signing event on his exciting new book, “Band of Angels,” last Saturday at the Barnes and Noble Booksellers store in Hendersonville.
The book is a combination book/play and therefore featured live musical performances of Thornton’s songs, free gifts, live guest appearances by the cast, and refreshments. His next book signing on “Band of Angels” will be May 24 at Libby Place in Richmond, Va.
His next book, an instructional teaching book entitled “Practice Personalities: What’s Your Type,” launches June 15 through Hal Leonard, the “biggest book publisher in the world.”
“I received 124 rejections on ‘Band of Angels’ before Tate Publishing, who was awarded the Christian Publisher of the Year award in 2006 and is known for the New York Times bestseller, ‘Memoirs of a Milk Carton Kid,’ picked it up and ran with it,” said Thornton.
Thornton is best known for his platinum hit song, “Love Is the Reason,” recorded by Engelbert Humperdinck and Gloria Gaynor on RCA Records. (Gloria was the pop diva that had that super hit on “I Will Survive.”) Thornton has had over 150 of his songs recorded by major and independent artists. He has been nominated twice for a coveted Dove Award and was honored by his peers at the Tennessee Songwriter’s Association in 1987 and 1988 by being awarded the prestigious “Songwriter of the Year” title.
Thornton hailed from Richmond, Va. where he spent the first 20 years of his life. He graduated from Hugunot Academy there and received his Bachelor of Music Education degree in Richmond at the Virginia Commonwealth University. He then went to the University of Illinois in Champagne and earned his Masters of Science in Music Education degree. This was followed by a stint at Eastman School of Music where he did his graduate work for his PhD.
“I got to work with some of the most gifted people in music and I met so many great artists,” said Thornton. “I met the man who became my mentor, Dr. Everette Gates. He lived to be 96, but he was in his 70s at the time. He took me under his wing and was one of the first people who taught me how to write music. Besides being affiliated with Boosey and Hawkes Publishers in New York, he was a well known composer, symphony conductor of the Oklahoma Symphony and was violinist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in New York.”
Thornton said he himself got interested in music at age three when he started making up rhymes and started studying piano at age five. He went from playing the piano to violin and now plays seven instruments, including piano, violin, cello, guitar, mandolin, viola and bass.
“Dr. Gates contended a person who can play several instruments is a complete musician,” explained Thornton. “He continued to follow my career and would send articles and different suggestions through the years.”
In his attempt to be near the music and publishing businesses, Thornton found his way to Nashville in 1982. The first song he had recorded after arriving in Music City was a gospel song, “It’s You, Jesus.” It received a lot of airplay according to Thornton. He started a publishing company and aligned himself with Glencliff Methodist Church where he was handling their music.
In 1986, a young lady named Audrey from Johnson City, Tenn. walked into the church. That was all she wrote for Thornton. He fell flat on his face in love with her and they were married that same year. They now have two children. Their son, Alex, is a junior at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and their daughter, Mollie, is a junior at Hendersonville High School.
In 1986, shortly after he and Audrey were married, Thornton started sending his music out to artists in the recording industry. He had sent “Love Is the Reason,” a song he co-wrote with Nashville writer Suzannah Ryan Wilson, out to 124 artists and received 124 rejections when a man named Joel Diamond at Silver Blue Entertainment contacted him and said he wanted the song as a duet for Englebert Humperdinck and Dolly Parton. Dolly fell out of the deal and Gloria Gaynor was signed.
“Joel Diamond invited Audrey and I and Suzannah and her husband to Las Vegas for the world premiere of the song,” said Thornton with a smile of remembering. “We got our pictures taken with Englebert and a full page in Billboard Magazine. Not bad for a new writer.”
Then, he laughed as he remembered another incident that happened that evening. It seemed Whoopi Goldberg was a friend of Englebert and had come to Vegas for the event. She was wearing a fur stole that caught fire from a flaming fondue that evening.
The album, “Remember I Love You,” containing “Love Is the Reason,” was released first in Canada, then Germany where it went No. 1, eventually going gold and then platinum worldwide. Thornton re-released “Love Is the Reason” on the Critique Record label in the U.S in 1992 and again it became a hit. In 1997, Thornton signed a five-year contract with Gatlin Music and turned out about 400 songs with them, He started his own ASCAP company, Clinentel Music. He has had over 150 of his songs recorded by major and independent artists.
Thornton, founder and director of the Nashville Suzuki Players, has over 20 years experience teaching the Suzuki violin method. He has received his Suzuki training through numerous Suzuki teacher workshops including one with the late master, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki in Miami, Fla. He has founded several successful Suzuki violin programs at Davidson Academy, Madison Campus Elementary, Austin Peay Sate University in Clarkville, Tenn. and at Cumberland University in Lebanon where he also teaches piano and guitar.
He founded the Nashville Suzuki Players at Cumberland under the invitation of Dr. Bert Coble. Under his leadership, the group has played concerts and made television appearances in 10 states in the Southeast. They have appeared at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Biltmore Estates, the Georgia Aquarium, the Gatlinburg Convention Center, the National Corvette Museum, the Children’s Museum of Greenville, S.C., the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, recorded at the famed Greenstone Studios in Greenville, S.C. and will open for the eighth time next month when the Nashville Symphony comes to Lebanon for “Symphony On the Lawn” at Cumberland.
The Nashville Suzuki Players have recorded seven CD’s and two DVD’s; appeared on numerous television shows throughout the northeast, including TBN’s “Country Camp Meeting” viewed by more than 100 million audience members worldwide. This year, they and Thornton filmed a musical salute to the WWII veterans in the new “Honor Air Documentary,” made for the History Channel and A & E.
Many of Thornton’s students are a testament to his hard work and creativeness in teaching. In addition to many winning full scholarships in music to major universities; others have won awards and competitions like the Grand Prize championship fiddle competition at the Smithville Jamboree; some are professionally recording and touring and some play in professional orchestras like the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
One has performed at Carnegie Hall, toured Europe with the New England Youth Ensemble and performed by invitation for the Queen of Jordan. One of Thornton’s youngest students is a successful rock recording artist for Arista Records and is currently touring with Aerosmith.
Thornton’s own credits and accomplishments are too numerous to mention them all. He makes that violin sing which shows why he’s such an avid performer on it. He has been a member of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra, the University of Illinois Symphony, the Virginia Commonwealth University Orchestra, the Bowling Green Chamber Orchestra, the Middle Tennessee State University Symphony and currently concertizes with his own string quartet.
He has performed and recorded violin in 15 states, including at the Grand Ole Opry Studio A, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the Gaylord Convention Center at Opryland, the Palace Theater, The Krannert Performing Arts Center in Illinois, the Miami Convention Center and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His appearance dates have included ones with Chris Golden and William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys and Bill and Gloria Gaither of The Gaithers.
In addition to those already mentioned, artists who have cut his songs include Ray Peterson, The Manhattans, Billy and Sarah Gaines, Mark Chestnutt, Kevin Wood, Tim Murphy, The Anchormen and Tammy Trent.
Today, in addition to him teaching at Cumberland, the Sumner Academy in Gallatin and his private studio in Hendersonville, Thornton is concentrating on his new youth musical, “Band of Angels” which was co-written with teacher/journalist Angie Jones, released in March and hitting bookstores with book signings this year.
His instructional book, “Practice Personalities: What’s Your Type,” is being released in June in time for the NAMM Convention in Nashville and the one to follow in Los Angeles in Feb., 2013.
“The publisher has invited me to attend both of those and we are shooting an instructional DVD on the book in August,” said Thornton.
Thornton is still terribly enthusiastic about anything that happens to him. He’s even enthusiastic about the fact that while his son plays music, he’s not planning on getting in to it as a career.
“He does a weekly cartoon for the Knox Daily Beacon and I think art is more his vein,” Thornton said. “In the case of my daughter, she’s leaning toward business and fashion consulting although she sings and dances. Whatever they want is okay with me.”
Further information may be obtained on Thornton Cline, the Nashville Suzuki Players or Thornton’s books by visiting Clinetel@bellsouth.net, www.BandofAngelsMusical.com or www.nashvillesuzukiplayers.com. More info on “Honor Air” can be viewed at www.honorair.com or by calling Tony Ashley at 615-780-3543.