At just 23 years old, Tehillah Alphonso’s list of accomplishments is enviable. She sang at the GRAMMY®s with Billie Eilish. She sang on the film score for the Disney movie “Encanto.” She sang back-up in an Olivia Rodrigo video. She has been nominated for a  GRAMMY®. A USC graduate, she works as a background vocalist, session musician, songwriter, high school teacher, and arranger in Los Angeles.

How did this Marian girl make it in the uber-competitive popular music industry?

“I can’t really break down all the steps,” said Alphonso. “At the end of the day, it’s really a lifetime of work: taking piano lessons at 6 years old, playing the clarinet in middle school, entering talent shows and taking choir in high school. Slowly discovering that I liked music in the first place.”

At Marian, Tehillah played basketball and participated in choir and musicals. She began to consider music as career, although she admits she really didn’t know what that looked like. She just knew she wanted to do more.

Her sophomore year, she auditioned and was accepted to A Cappella Academy, a summer camp for high school vocalists in Los Angeles with members of Pentatonix as artists in residence. The experience was instrumental and provided the affirmation she needed to pursue music as a profession.

Students from all over the world attended the camp, and the counselors were all working musicians and artists. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else after that. A Cappella Academy is one of the biggest reasons I am where I am today,” said Alphonso.

Tehillah began pursuing opportunities outside Nebraska. Her junior year she performed at Carnegie Hall as a member of the Honors Performance Series Choir. Senior year she attended a week of master classes through YoungArts in Miami.

As she considered her college choices, the University of Southern California emerged as a top recommendation. “It made so much sense to me to be in LA to get my education, establish my network, and start my career there,” Tehillah recalls.

At USC, Tehillah wanted to put in the work, be perceived as a hard worker, and take advantage of all her program could offer. She was selected for the SoCal Vocals, the most winning group in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (the same competition the movie Pitch Perfect is based on.)

By senior year, she was hitting her stride and getting hired for jobs. In the spring of 2020, she was scheduled to sing background vocals with NIKI at a music festival in Indonesia; she was slated to perform at Coachella; senior showcase was scheduled at the El Rey, an iconic LA venue.

“Everything was lined up and it all went out the window,” Tehillah said. COVID shutdowns sent her back home to Nebraska. Her degree was conferred via an online ceremony that she watched from her parent’s living room. There was a lot of waiting.

In July of 2020, as things were beginning to open up, Tehillah returned to LA. She worked hard to get back on the radar by creating a vocal reel and demos, putting mini cover and a cappella performances on social media, and arranging music. In October, The Los Angeles National Children’s Choir commissioned her to arrange Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come, ” a piece that took on significant meaning in the light of growing demand for social justice. The arrangement featured string quartet, jazz harmony and classical choir. She then revised her original version to simplify it for the children’s choir. The full arrangement was picked up by Tonality, an award-winning choral group, and completely recorded from home. In November 2021, she received notice that her full arrangement had been nominated for a  GRAMMY®.

As a result, new work continues to pick up along with  GRAMMY® interviews and promotions. “I thought it would take me much longer to get to this and it’s actually happening fast,” said Tehillah of her nomination.

Tehillah is incredibly grateful for all the mentors who have helped her navigate her way, and she’d like to mentor younger artists. She offers this advice for Marian girls, “No matter the profession, talent is a small part – getting to know people and working hard is so important…even if you don’t know what it is you’re working for.”

You can listen to Alphonso’s GRAMMY®-nominated arrangement here.