A real broken leg has been just that for Chris Smallwood, a graduate student in music at the University of Louisville. It helped to set him on a long and winding road from his hometown of London, Ky., to Liverpool, England, to perform at a venue that helped to launch the Beatles’ career.

Smallwood won the They’re Gonna Make a Big Star Out of Me singing competition at Louisville’s Abbey Road on the River event in May, competing against about 100 others for the opportunity to play at the Cavern Club. He played A Long and Winding Road, one of the songs he’ll perform Nov. 23 at the famous venue.

I was raised around Beatles’ music so the contest seemed like a good way to travel to where they spent their early days, Smallwood said. I picked the song as I could use the piano and sing a jazzy version based on Paul McCartney.

Liverpool isn’t the first music mecca Smallwood has been associated with.

He earned his undergraduate degree in music at Belmont College in Nashville, Tenn. Smallwood said he found the city, a mecca for musicians and singers, to be a great place to both learn and play music.

I joined rock ensembles, some with jazz influences, and we played in various places around town, he noted.

Earlier this year, Smallwood also played at another renowned classical music mecca – Carnegie Hall, in New York City – with the UofL Wind Ensemble.

I got to play in Carnegie Hall last spring and I would say the Cavern is a more sacred music spot than Carnegie Hall, BBC News earlier this week quoted Smallwood as saying.
While Smallwood’s comment may have raised eyebrows at the School of Music, Naomi Oliphant, with whom he is working on a master of music degree in piano performance, praised him as great student, very dedicated to music of all types.

Oliphant is helping Smallwood prepare for his graduate recital in April. The concert will feature selections from Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.

There must be something about the letter b.

I had no idea that Chris was a Beatles fan, Oliphant said. I was out of the country and got a strange text about a Beatles contest from a phone number that I did not recognize. A second text the next morning said that he had won. On Monday and my return to UofL it was Chris who walked in asking if had gotten the news.

In addition to a gig at the Cavern Club, Smallwood’s prize includes a trip for two to Liverpool, a stay at the new Hard Day’s Night Hotel, tour of Beatles’ sites and a shopping spree.

He leaves Friday and will play at the Cavern on Monday.

I’m lucky that my fiancée will get to go with me, he said. Nicki is a music teacher in Nashville with a great voice. We will do a duet of ‘Long and Winding Road,’ ‘Let It Be,’ ‘Fool on the Hill,’ and sing as long as they will let us.

Clarifying that he doesn’t mean for all time, Smallwood said the Beatles made the best music of the last 50 to 100 years.

That should not offend Beethoven, Bach or Brahms.