Arizona native with Tucson ties wins national songwriting contest

Arizona News

Songs for social change

Yuma native Mary Lou Fulton took first place in the Social Change Song of the Year contest organized by the Renaissance Artists and Writers Association.

A social justice anthem written by an Arizona native snagged first prize in the fourth annual nationwide Songs for Social Change contest.

Yuma native Mary Lou Fulton’s “Not Going Back (I Don’t Think So)” will lead off the 2019 contest compilation album featuring songs by the runners-up. Contest sponsor Renaissance Artists and Writers Association has not announced a release date.

“I’m really thrilled about that and honored and excited,” said Fulton, who sang on Tucson’s own Ronstadt Generations 2012 EP “America Our Home,” a collection of American anthems including “This Land is Your Land” and “The Star Spangled Banner” performed in traditional Mexican styles.

Fulton, an Arizona State University grad who was a writer and editor for the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and several digital outlets in a 20-year journalism career, penned the song as part of a songwriting course. The instructor early last year challenged the class to focus on something that reflected the times we are living in.

Fulton, who is a social justice advocate as a senior program manager with the The California Endowment health foundation, turned to the headlines for inspiration.

It was on a drive from her native Yuma back to her longtime home in Los Angeles that Fulton heard a story on the radio about people waxing nostalgic for the “good old days.”

“Wait a minute. What were the good old days anyway?” she remembers asking herself. “What were they like for women? For my mom, who was a Mexican immigrant? For people of color? Gay people? They weren’t so great.”

On that long drive, Fulton, 56, sketched out the chorus hook: “The good old days weren’t so good for me, how about you?“

Fulton, who sang in school choirs growing up in Yuma and continued singing in choirs as an adult, wrote about the idea of going back to an era when African-Americans and people of color were at the back of the line, immigrants were back in the fields and women “just keep your mouth shut, do as you’re told and everything’s going to be fine.”

The song also touches on the immigration issue and the heated rhetoric of illegal crossers cast as armed invaders. “But they’re talking about my mama / She’s been here since she was 9 / Proudly waves the flag on the Fourth of July.”  

Fulton workshopped the song with her songwriting class then took it to the annual Dar Williams Songwriting Retreat last summer. She didn’t really have any plans to record the song or take it any further than her songwriting circles, but the response she got at the retreat — a standing ovation and words of encouragement from fellow songwriters — encouraged her to create a music video and enter the song in the Renaissance Artists songwriting contest.

With the win, which came with a $500 prize, Fulton hopes the song will find its way into the 2020 election season. She released a music video featuring an all-female, racially diverse cast holding up political signs. She also is offering the sheet music free on her website notgoingback.org for school and community choirs to use.

“My point in writing this song is not to point fingers at anyone or put anyone down,” Fulton said. “It’s just to ask the question about really what would it mean to go back to the past. What would it mean to you personally, your family, your community. Is that what we really want? That’s my whole goal, to ask that question through music and get people to think about it.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

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