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Carnegie Hall Initiative Helps Two Moms Compose Genre-Defying Lullaby For Their Baby

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Shonnece Hill and Elizabeth Cheeves of San Francisco are expecting their first child together. They came up with this song just a few weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORI'S SONG")

SHONNECE HILL AND ELIZABETH CHEEVES: (Singing) Two moms are better than none. Two moms are better than none.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chloe Veltman of member station KQED has this story about how the couple got some special help to create their very own genre-defying lullaby.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: Shonnece Hill and Elizabeth Cheeves first started working on their lullaby while they were on a road trip. They were collaborating by phone with Cava Menzies, a prominent Oakland musician. Watching a video recording after the fact, I could hear how spotty the connection was on the freeway.

CAVA MENZIES: Can y'all hear me?

SHONNECE HILL: (Unintelligible).

CAVA MENZIES: Oh, no. I lost you.

VELTMAN: But despite the technical challenges, the trio quickly got into the songwriting zone.

HILL: Two moms are better than no mom.

VELTMAN: Hill and Cheeves shared some lyrics while Menzies took notes in her Oakland studio.

CAVA MENZIES: I kind of think that that two moms are better than no moms needs to be the chorus and the hook.

VELTMAN: Menzies threw down a couple of piano chords.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CAVA MENZIES: Kind of adds a little groove for the intro.

VELTMAN: In less than an hour, they had the makings of their catchy new song.

ELIZABETH CHEEVES: I know I'm going to be singing this song.

CAVA MENZIES: It's a hit already. I can hear it.

CHEEVES: I'm going to put it on YouTube.

CAVA MENZIES: Right.

VELTMAN: This small musical jewel is one of a bunch of new songs to have come out of the Lullaby Project, a Carnegie Hall initiative founded in 2011. The national program pairs unhoused and low-income caregivers with professional musicians to write a lullaby for their unborn or new babies. San Francisco-based project director Meena Bhasin.

MEENA BHASIN: It helps you kind of channel the energy into the positive, into the, like, hopes and dreams for the future, as opposed to focusing on, like, what is so hard right now.

VELTMAN: Musician Cava Menzies says working on the project renewed her sense of human connection after more than a year of insular pandemic living.

CAVA MENZIES: And to be able to do something that creates a bridge between strangers is really amazing. I got to discover something new through their story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORI'S SONG")

SHONNECE HILL AND ELIZABETH CHEEVES: (Singing) Our Stori Our Stori Our blessing. Our gift from God.

VELTMAN: The name of Hill and Cheeves' unborn daughter is also Stori, but her parents are spelling it with an I instead of a Y.

HILL: This is a story. We have so much to tell.

VELTMAN: Later, speaking from their apartment, Hill and Cheeves tell me their story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORI'S SONG")

SHONNECE HILL AND ELIZABETH CHEEVES: (Singing) Two moms are better than none. Two moms are better than none.

VELTMAN: Cheeves says she and Hill first met when they were teens growing up in San Francisco.

CHEEVES: I always wanted to be with her, but we never really got the chance to be with each other.

VELTMAN: They stayed in contact but lived separate lives. Then one day, six years ago, Cheeves says she and Hill ran into each other at a gas station, fell into a long conversation and realized their feelings for each other ran deep.

CHEEVES: So we got each other. And then we got engaged in 2018, and now we're here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORI'S SONG")

HILL: The way you were conceived is so wonderful and beautiful. You can always count on me to be in your corner.

VELTMAN: In the song, Hill talks about the joy of being able to conceive as LGBTQ parents. But she admits bringing a new life into the world has been tough.

HILL: We went all the way broke to pay for the baby.

VELTMAN: IVF costs tens of thousands of dollars. Hill and Cheeves were already struggling to figure out how to pay the bill when the pandemic hit, and then they both lost their jobs. To top it all, Hill was in a custody battle over her 9-year-old son from a previous relationship.

HILL: This has been a crazy time - crazy.

CHEEVES: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORI'S SONG")

SHONNECE HILL AND ELIZABETH CHEEVES: (Singing) You’re my shining light, the pieces to my puzzle. You shine so bright. Don’t you know how I love you?

VELTMAN: Things are getting better. Cheeves got a new job, and Hill won full custody of her son. The song's chorus captures the 30-something couple's excitement about the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORI'S SONG")

ELIZABETH CHEEVES AND CAVA MENZIES: (Singing) Because you're the honey to my bees, my shining star. Our blessing, my gift from God.

VELTMAN: That's Cheeves singing alongside musician Cava Menzies.

CHEEVES: I wanted to hear my voice on there and know that we both made this song for her.

HILL: It's going to be stuck in her head because we're going to play this for her a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORI'S SONG")

CAVA MENZIES: (Singing) Three of you stuck like glue. And don't you know, you'll always have a band that is true.

VELTMAN: Cana Menzies says "Stori's Song" and the real-life story behind it expand notions about what a lullaby can be.

CAVA MENZIES: The idea that lullabies have to be, like, slow, sort of reminds me, again, of that stereotypical messaging that we get about what it means to be a mother and what the first musical soundtrack should sound like in life.

VELTMAN: Menzies, who's a mom herself, says the truth is that no two experiences of parenthood are the same, and every lullaby has a different story to tell. For NPR News, I'm Chloe Veltman in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.