Russell Dickerson may be a chart-topping, multi-platinum country artist, but he hasn’t forgotten where his story began.
“I still wear my Bruin flag with pride,” said Dickerson.
The 2011 alumna was welcomed back to Belmont with a standing ovation on Tuesday night to receive the Curtain Call Award and perform for adoring fans in the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.
Dickerson studied commercial music and music business at Belmont and encouraged aspiring artists in the crowd to seek inspiration from their college collaborators.
“I tried writing with the big dogs, I tried writing with the cool cats,” said Dickerson in an onstage Q&A. “It just didn’t happen until I wrote with my people, my people that knew me, my people that understood me and knew what I wanted to say.”
Since graduating, the Union City, Tennessee, native has taken the country charts by storm. His 2020 single “Love You Like I Used To,” peaked at No. 1 and tied Lonestar’s 1999 hit “Amazed” for the most consecutive weeks in the top ten with 21.
And his 2017 career-kickstarting ballad “Yours” topped more than just Billboard’s Country Airplay chart — it’s one of the most popular wedding songs of the 21st century.
Dickerson’s “Blue Tacoma” and “Every Little Thing,” co-written with Belmont alums Parker Welling and Casey Brown, also hit No. 1 in the U.S., and all of his biggest hits have something in common.
“All four of those No. 1s were written with my Belmont peeps,” he said.
Russell Dickerson receives the 2022 Curtain Call Award, presented by Belmont commercial voice liaison Sandra Dudley (right), Feb. 8. Sam Simpkins / Belmont University
Though it took Dickerson a few years to make it big on country radio, he already had a foot in the door as a music student at Belmont.
“I was in my publishing class as I was negotiating my publishing deal. You can’t plan that,” he said. “The people on the other side of that contract only want what’s best for them, and so you need to be informed on what’s best for you.”
“… It’s a savage world out there, kids.”
Dickerson gave tips to musicians in the crowd, reflecting on his start in the industry.
“The best piece of advice I can give you is to register with your PRO,” said Dickerson, referring to performance rights organizations like BMI. “You have someone you can contact within the industry … That’s what I did. They hooked me up with every publisher, they sent my music out and that’s what got it started for me.”
“… Just be seen, be out there, be talking.”
After singing a few of his more recent hits, Dickerson invited the students of Belmont’s country vocal ensemble, Southbound, to back him up in “Home Sweet” and “Yours.”
“He was in Southbound himself when he went to Belmont,” ensemble member Nicole Polizzi said. “So he was exactly in our shoes, and he was just really encouraging.”
“We all felt so special,” Polizzi said.
As for what’s next, Dickerson will hit the road in April to support Tim McGraw on the country superstar’s 2022 tour.
PHOTO: Russell Dickerson onstage in the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts with the student vocalists of Southbound, Feb. 8. Sam Simpkins / Belmont University
This article was written by Sarah Maninger and Camden Morris.