Chris Young and Judith Pinkerton

Chris Young and the Academy of Country Music Honor Music Therapy

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The music industry has become increasingly interested in music therapy with support and involvement from a variety of artists.  Artists like Kelly Clarkson and Luke Bryan have become involved with music therapy through the nonprofit Musicians On Call, an organization that specializes in in-room performances for hospitalized children. Quincy Jones was introduced to music therapy when his son was hospitalized, and often speaks of the way music helped his son get better. Jack Black has also been involved with music therapy, performing for kids to make them laugh and enjoy themselves. Additionally, in memory of late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, a nonprofit was recently established to bring music therapy to trauma-affected children at a Seattle hospital. 

The weekend of the Academy of Country Music Awards had many touching moments, but perhaps most moving of all was the presentation of the Aflac ACM Lifting Lives Honor.  Country superstar Chris Young presented the honor to Judith Pinkerton, one of the most renowned music therapists in the field. Music therapy is the practiced use of music to promote, maintain and restore physical, emotional and spiritual health. Judith’s hard work and passion on the subject has positioned her as an expert on the skillful application of music in therapy sessions. She sat down with Billboard to share the significance of this recognition and speak to the power of music.  

“There’s 8,000 of us-- and I know that there’s so many deserving music therapists, so I am proud to carry the torch,” Judith said. 

Young’s involvement with the honor caught the attention of music fans everywhere, particularly in the country music community where fans and artists are notoriously passionate about philanthropy. This type of publicity is groundbreaking for an industry like music therapy where exposure and recognition are among their biggest challenges.    

Judith was first introduced to the power of music by her own violin when her then-husband had intensive surgery. She was able to bring down his blood pressure and eliminate the need for medication with music. His nurse agreed; “she went over to his hospital records – and she actually scratched out medication and wrote music had been used instead,” Judith told Billboard. She quickly realized she wanted to do this for the rest of her life. 

From there, Judith went on to work with countless patients including pediatric patients battling cancer. “[Music therapy] can help them through this really difficult process in having cancer,” Judith said. “It’s all those unsettled moods – and music can so effectively help reduce that so you can just focus on healing.” With the help of music therapy, children suffering from cancer are able to better express their emotions and focus on enjoying the normalcy of childhood. Research shows this type of change in mood can help lead to positive outcomes in health. 

The positive impact music therapy can have on childhood cancer patients is especially important to Aflac, as the company has made significant financial contributions to the childhood cancer cause over the past two decades. A portion of Aflac’s financial support has been dedicated to the Family Support Team at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in Atlanta, including funding that supports the nationally recognized cancer center’s music therapy program.  

ACM Lifting Lives, the charitable arm of the Academy of Country Music, partnered with Aflac to present this honor to recognize an individual for his or her remarkable and selfless dedication to bringing the healing power of music to those who are in need. To learn more about how Aflac is there for policyholders in their time of need, visit