Two Clintonville residents collaborated to create one of the finalists for the "Celebrate Columbus in Song" contest.

Two Clintonville residents collaborated to create one of the finalists for the "Celebrate Columbus in Song" contest.

Neither well-known local musician Arnett Howard nor author-historian, and now lyricist, David Meyers is banking on their song, "Elijah's Wooden Book," garnering the most votes in the online competition. They are simply pleased, both said, to have their work among the 29 still in the running and to pay homage to its subject, famed folk artist Elijah Pierce.

"I'm not going into it with the idea of being the No. 1 song," Meyers said. "I'm not sure it is the No. 1 song. It would be nice to be on the album that they're doing, because that way it'll be around a little longer."

"It's such a different song, and it doesn't pronounce Columbus exactly, but it was selected and it's being voted on now," Howard said.

"I don't know whether it will win the contest, but we're just honored that the song would get some recognition and Elijah Pierce would be recognized after he's been gone for 28 years," he added.

"To celebrate Columbus' rich and talented community of musicians, the Celebrate Columbus in Song contest invited Columbus musicians to submit original songs inspired by Columbus," according to the website for the competition, http://song.200columbus.com/vote. "The contest had an overwhelming response. The initial 123 submissions were narrowed to the list of 29 songs by a panel of community members who considered adherence to the contest rules as well as other song characteristics including relevance, musicality and overall vibe. Celebrate Columbus in Song is designed to support local artists as they support the Bicentennial and for everyone to celebrate and enjoy the city's amazing creative talent. The top 10 to 12 songs receiving the most votes will be featured on the CD, along with the Columbus Bicentennial Anthem, written by Milton Ruffin, the principal of Fort Hayes High School. The musicians/bands selected will receive a cash prize of $500 and an opportunity for professional recording and production time at the WCBE-FM or Jazz Academy studios. Performance opportunities at select Columbus events and festivals during 2012 will be provided, as well."

People visiting the site may listen to the 29 finalists and vote for as many as 10 of them.

The contest ends March 23.

"Elijah's Wooden Book" has its origins in the age of the home Meyers and his family moved into their Clintonville home in 1987. It was one that required a good deal of attention.

"With an old house, you never get your projects done," Meyers said.

One of these projects eventually included a carving above the entryway into the library. It was inspired by a visit Meyers and daughter Elise took to the Columbus Museum of Art, where they saw works by Pierce.

The Mississippi-born Pierce, who died May 7, 1984, at age 92, owned a barbershop at on East Long Street. He became famous for his wood carvings, something he took up in the late 1920s when he crafted a present for his wife, Columbus native Cornelia Houeston.

At the time of his death, according to Pierce's obituary in The Columbus Dispatch, he was one of the country's leading folk artists.

"His barbershop on Long Street was a hospitable gathering place," according to a page on the website of Columbus State Community College, which has a larger-than-life statue of Pierce on its grounds. "Customers would come not only for haircuts, but to discuss the news of the day. Pierce was quite engaged in the life of the local community and of the nation. His secular carvings show his love of baseball, boxing, comics and the movies. They also reflect his interest in national politics and his appreciation for American heroes who fought for justice and liberty. Through his carvings Pierce told his own life story and chronicled the African-American experience. He also carved stories with universal themes. He seldom distinguished the race of his figures; he thought of them as everyman."

The artist's work remained largely unknown outside of Columbus until the early 1970s, when sculptor and Ohio State University graduate student Boris Gruenwald encountered one of the carvings in an exhibition at the YMCA, the site states.

"Gruenwald met with Pierce, told him that he was going to make sure the world knew of his art," the website adds. "The two would become dear friends and Gruenwald organized several important exhibitions. Within a few years, Pierce was known both nationally and internationally in the world of folk art."

"We've always been fond of Elijah Pierce," David Meyers said. "The more you read about him, the more his story gets to you."

As part of an ongoing project to create an album of songs about famous Ohioans, Meyers penned the words of "Elijah's Wooden Book" in 1993.

"I badgered Arnett into doing a tune," Meyers said. "I thought it would appeal to him because he knew Elijah Piece. I knew there was a friendship there.

"I sat down and sort of hummed what I thought it should sound like."

"I literally sat down and did it in an hour," Howard recalled. "It was pretty neat. I guess I was inspired. The words just sang the melody out.

"I think I recorded the whole thing that evening."

"I liked the idea of a guy who was a barber, that's how he made his living, but he had a calling to carve these figures, and he does it with very little attention for years until someone from OSU recognized his work and then in his waning years is when he became a world-renowned folk artist, but that's not why he did it," Meyers said. "That's kind of the message I liked: if it's meaningful to you, do it."

The book referred to in the song's title is a carving Pierce created but would not sell during his lifetime.