It's been almost a year since we spoke with Mark Smeby, a Minnesota native (whose parents now live in Rochester), writer, actor and singer-songwriter who has been living in Nashville for about 20 years.

He also travels around the country as a Christian singer, giving concerts and making records.

So why does he credit his latest commercial success to a rap star?

The recent film release "Son of God" features the song "Mary, Did You Know," performed by CeeLo Green, at the end of the film.

As a result, the download count for Smeby's own version of the song, from 2011, has gotten a big bump.

Crazy!

"I never would have imagined a rapper could help with the sales of my music," Smeby said. "CeeLo is a creative genius, and he put that song out on a holiday album last year, and they decided to use that for this movie, and now, when people are searching for it, they are buying my song. It's a mater of 'right place at the right time,' I guess.

"You never know what is going to happen with what you create," he said. "I could have never predicted this, but life is like fishing. Sometimes you throw your line out there and get nothing. Sometimes you get a bite. Either way, you gotta enjoy the time in your boat."

We should expect to be hearing more from Smeby soon. He is at work writing songs for his new record, in talks with a record label, getting ready for a tour this spring and summer, and has an agent pitching his book, "Wannabe: How to make it big in Nashville from someone who hasn't … yet."

More information about Smeby and his music is at his website, marksmeby.com.

High notes

Red Wing native Mikki Sodergren is this year's winner of the American Traditions Competition in Savannah, Ga., in February.

In what was almost a clean sweep, Mikki took home three prizes — the Courtney Knight Gaines Gold Medal, the Ben Tucker Award for best jazz performance (in honor of Ben Tucker, jazz bassist who was killed in Savannah this past year) and the Johnny Mercer Award for best performance of a Johnny Mercer song.

"I'm so grateful for these honors, and I'm completely humbled," Sodergren said.

She was silver medalist at last year's competition, a weeklong event that features three rounds spaced through the week, each consisting of a separate program of three songs representing different genres of American music.

"It's three rounds once you make it to the finals down in Georgia, and nine songs altogether of different sounds, from different times and different genre, but I had to have all of my songs picked back in September," Sodergren sad. "It's a bit of a challenge to plan that far in advance."

More than 150 people sent in sound clips to enter the contest, and 28 made it to the final three rounds. That's when Sodergren took home the honors.

Receiving the Ben Tucker Award was extra special to her.

"Last year, I was in this competition and got to see him perform when he played at the judges concert," she said, "and then a few months later, he was killed in that tragic golf cart incident, and his wife decided to give this award. It was extremely meaningful, and I'm happy I got to hear him perform live."

Sodergren, who grew up in Red Wing, left for Michigan during her sophomore year in high school to attend and graduate from a performing arts school. She received her bachelor's degree in vocal performance from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and has been living in Manhattan for about a year. She sings genres from pop to jazz to theater to opera.

"I love them all," she said, "and I love learning them all, and I'm not ready to put all of my eggs in one basket, but right now, I'm focusing to study voice classically. "

Sodergren recently transitioned to soprano from mezzo soprano. She has another big competition in May, has just signed with a talent agent and will cover the role of Zerlina in a Georgia production on "Don Giovanni" in July.

You can find more information about her at www.mikkisodergren.com.

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