A Songwriter’s Second Act

in Arts/Community by

Beaufort native Greenly enjoying his best life

By MINDY LUCAS

Mike Greenly is living his best life.

The 75-year-old Beaufort native, who now lives in New York City, has had a full life as a former executive-turned-freelance writer, inspirational speaker and speech coach.

He regularly works with clients from all over the world – some of whom he’s never even met. And he enjoys helping people, whether it’s by writing a speech that could make a career or helping someone to overcome a fear of public speaking.

It’s a story that could have ended with its first act and still have been pretty good story.

But it didn’t end there. In fact, in some ways, it only started there.

Greenly, who once struggled to find his own voice in the world, has gone on to write hundreds of songs for others to sing – from pop songs to chorals to country songs and even dance club hits.

Yes, dance club hits.

In fact, as a Billboard Top 10 lyricist, Greenly has had multiple songs on the Dance Club Charts – including four that went on to become No. 1 hits.

Take for example “With You,” written for Kimberly Davis, lead singer of the ‘70s band Chic, of the mega disco hit “Le Freak” fame. It’s a song that came in at No. 4 on the Billboard Dance Club Chart in 2014.

Or “Get Up,” another hit written for Davis that came in on the same charts at No. 12 in 2010.

He also wrote Virginia’s new official state song “Our Great Virginia” which was passed into law in 2015, as well as many others.

“But writing a song is different from having a song published,” he said recently, by phone from his home in Manhattan, explaining that not every song he writes is published or becomes a hit.

Still, not bad for a once shy and sometimes bullied Jewish kid from Beaufort who went on to launch not one but two successful careers.

It’s a second act that many only dream of or romanticize, but for Greenly, the road to success or self fulfillment wasn’t always an easy one.

Early Memories

Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, Greenly was just an infant when his family moved back to Beaufort where his mother was originally from.

In those days, Jewish families in Beaufort were so few in number that Greenly can still recall many of them by name.

“It was a very small community,” he said.

He particularly remembers the Keyserlings and their son Billy, who would later become one his oldest friends and confidants.

And he still remembers what it felt like to be viewed with contempt or suspicion, and be called a “dirty Jew boy.”

“I felt hurt and wounded,” he said, recalling painful memories from that time.

As an English major later at Duke University, Greenly struggled with anxiety and depression. In danger of losing his scholarship, he was advised to go to psychotherapy which he credits not only for saving his college career, but for saving his life.

Psychoanalysis and learning to embrace his “authentic self” also helped him later in life when he finally learned to accept that he was gay, he said. And going through some of those painful earlier times helped him to become more empathetic and more respectful of others.

“Because I’ve been through it,” he said. “And now I accept myself and am more accepting of everybody’s differences around me, and I’m happier.”

Early Career Moves

Writing lyrics wasn’t something Greenly set out to do. Not at first anyway.

As a former Avon executive, Greenly would often change or edit songs that would come across his desk meant for use in marketing initiatives or sales meetings simply because he knew the campaigns or projects better than the person writing them. Before long, he was writing the song lyrics himself.

One day, after leaving Avon to go out on his own, he and a composer friend who had teamed up on a song for an agency pitch, received particularly good feedback.

After the meeting Greenly turned to his friend and said, “You know, they loved our song. Why don’t we try writing songs for the public?”

After his initial foray into “public” songwriting, Greenly was hooked.

Soon he was writing songs not just for pop singers and powerhouse vocalists like Kimberly Davis, who he met when she would come in for agency work as a demo artist, but lyrics for chorals and songs “with a purpose” as well.

Songs like “Always My Angel,” a song he was asked to write in memory of those who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012.

Or “I See You,” a song he wrote to call attention to the way older Americans are sometimes treated. Performed by recording artist Grant Maloy Smith, the song was recently adopted by the organization Masterpiece Living, a multi-specialty group specializing in aging issues.

“I love using my words to make a difference,” he said.

Greenly’s longtime friend, and Beaufort Mayor, Billy Keyserling said Greenly’s song “Common Ground” about putting aside differences and trying to find common ground with others “really resonated” with him.

“It connected with me in a way that I hadn’t really thought about,” he said, adding that he is looking to incorporate it in the work he is doing with Reconstruction Beaufort or as he thinks more about what he’d like his legacy to be.

These days, Greenly is enjoying life more than ever – whether he’s writing songs, working on more corporate endeavors or walking executives through the ins and outs of public speaking.

He’s particularly excited about an upcoming Earth Day-themed performance at Carnegie Hall in April. The performance features a number of award winning performers and songwriters from a variety of genres and Greenly will be making a presentation on songwriting.

“I’m thrilled,” he said, laughing. “My parents would be so proud.”

Above: Beaufort native and songwriter Mike Greenly (left) often teams up with members of the Nile Rodgers & Chic band including Nile Rodgers (right) and singer Kimberly Davis, not pictured. Photo by Billy Hess.