Mark Leland is not a newcomer to sounds of country music. That fact alone confirms his dedication to honesty and respect for the traditional sounds of this genre. For years, Leland has focused his energy and spare time on creating music that holds true to the original idea of country songs – telling stories. In addition to his songwriting skills, Leland’s baritone, smooth voice has a range that has allowed him to be compared to the likes of Toby Keith and Vince Gill.
Born to a Southern Baptist minister and homemaker, Leland grew up in the country with his older sister learning about southern country manners, sometimes the hard way. Growing up the son of a preacher man was never easy. His late father, Troy Cockerham, was a very godly man and practiced what he preached. These lessons could be tough at times for a boy growing up in the small town of Jena, La. His mother, Tommie Cockerham, was the gentler part of the family, but could be firm when needing to guide her son into making the right decisions. Both of Leland’s parents were musically inclined. His father with the guitar and harmonica; his mother on the piano. It’s clear these influences were just the beginning to Leland’s career.
As with many of today’s artists, Leland found the world of music when very young. At the tender age of seven he was performing church solos with his sweet child-like voice. At age 15, Leland picked up his first guitar and fell in love with how it sounded. In fact in that same week, he penned his first song which he titled, “Someday, You’ll Find the Answer”. From that point on, Leland has never stopped writing or playing music.
Writing a number of songs about love, life and heartaches, Leland finally made it into the studio in 1998 to produce his demo CD, Through the Heart. Eleven original songs in all, he was able to finally hear the finished product of a studio recording. Playing with some of Nashville’s finest musicians and vocalists lit a fire under Leland to find a label that would help him produce his next and even better album. That label was Mallory Records, Inc and that next CD was Missing Pieces.
Listening to Leland’s debut CD, Missing Pieces, it’s easy to understand why he is so well received by his fans. Aside from his engaging voice is the fact that most of the songs on this album are lyrics written or co-written by Leland himself. Fans get satisfaction from knowing that the passion behind his songs is all from the heart – beginning the moment he puts the pen to the paper.
A self-described romantic at heart, Leland has written many ballads. “Baby, Turn Down the Lights” and “Inside” are two of the most intimate on this album. Leland has a way of putting the words on paper that most everyone has in their heads. Through his music, people are able to share their innermost thoughts when they’re not able to verbalize them.
The patriotic side of Leland is expressed in his song “Red, White and Blue Americans”. It’s difficult nowadays for music artist to write songs that others may perceive as exploiting the war on terrorism. Fighting this classification, Leland still went out on a limb to write this song which reminds us all to support our military troops. No matter a person’s stand on the current crisis, everyone can still be patriotic and support those who are simply doing their job. “Red, White and Blue Americans” sends that message loud and clear.
The largest motivation behind this CD is the title track, “Missing Pieces”. Leland’s manager and long time friend, Tim Calhoun, is the father of Nathaniel, the inspiration for this song. Nathaniel, like 1.7 million other children, is autistic. After listening to the stories of the challenges that families face in receiving treatment for their children diagnosed with autism and watching the pain his close friend was facing, Leland began to learn more and more about autism. Together, Calhoun and Leland wrote “Missing Pieces”. It is a touching song that takes a listener through the anguish of having a beautiful baby whose neurological sense become challenged in the first few years of life. The autism community faces a constant struggle of learning about the causes of this terrible disease and the ever-changing ideas on effective treatment.
The philanthropic loyalty that Leland has towards helping this often unnoticed group of dedicated parents has been the basis of his decision to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of his Missing Pieces CD to organizations that can assist families in affording the treatment needed to help their autistic children succeed. As the song “Missing Pieces” is being played more and more, Leland is frequently asked to perform at autism benefits across the country. Parents of autistic children who have heard his song are sharing his enthusiasm with other members of their community. Together, Leland and his fans are spreading autism awareness across the nation and possibly, the world.
Though he thinks of himself as just a “normal human being”, Leland is more than that. He is a songwriter, vocalist, musician, producer, entertainer, activist, husband and father. Fans all over the country are now discovering his talent and his devotions. All Mark Leland ever wanted to do was give back through his music even if it was just to create a simple smile on someone’s face. With the way things are going, he’ll be doing much more than that.