“If I’m going to try out for the band, I need to look as good as I can,” Alabama lead singer Randy Owen joked as he dressed for a special visit Friday (Jan 18) at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Donning a surgical gown and gloves, Owen prepared for an upcoming audition with Daniel Schrieber, 5, a transplant patient holding auditions in his fourth-floor hospital room. “I try very hard to get into their mood and their family’s mood,” Owen explained, “just be like an added part of the room.”
Owen was at St. Jude as part of the second-largest gathering of country music industry professionals ever to visit the hospital. They were on hand to kick off a series of radiothons to benefit St. Jude. The hospital is the single largest center in the United States for the treatment of catastrophic pediatric diseases. Owen is credited with helping to start the “Country Cares for St. Jude Kids” program which has raised more than $157 million in pledges since 1989.
“There’s been so many cases and wonderful situations over the years that I thank God that I find the courage to keep my emotions [in check] most of the time,” Owen recalled. “The first couple of years, I just couldn’t. It was too emotional.”
The country music veteran’s emotional fiber was tested anew during his brief stay with young Schrieber, who suffers from acute myeloid leukemia and already has had two close calls with death. Schrieber “hired” Owen at $1 per day to sing for his pretend band, Terminator.
The same playful spirit was carried throughout the day by other visiting artists including Keith Urban , Brad Paisley , Lonestar , SheDaisy , Steve Holy , and Trick Pony . They posed for pictures and signed autographs before turning the spotlight on the children by requesting their autographs.
“It’s so cool to be able to ask them, ‘I tell you what, I’ll sign my record for you if you’ll sign this book for me,’ and they love it,” Urban said.
“They get a break from the normal, probably dull, routine. They get to have a fuss made over them, which is what everybody should have,” Lonestar guitarist Michael Britt added.
In addition to touring the hospital, country artists recorded personal messages to be played during the two-day radiothons on more than 190 radio stations across the country. Celebrities encourage their fans to give to the cause.
The artists themselves admit they come away from the experience with a new outlook. “I wonder, is my single going to do this … or where’s my next show? Are we ever going to get booked again?” Holy questioned. “Those are my only problems. Hey, this puts life into perspective.”
“You tend to not get stressed out about trivial little things as much when you leave here, when you realize what they’re dealing with every day,” Urban said.
“I feel a lot of closeness with my fellow men when I leave here,” Owen added. “I just thank God that He blessed my life to be part of St. Jude.”