Siedah Garrett Reveals MS Diagnosis, Debuts New Song at Annual Fundraiser

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Siedah Garret performs at the 2013 Library Of Congress Gershwin Prize Tribute Concert at the Thomas Jefferson Building on May 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.  

On Friday (May 5), multiple sclerosis advocate and Center Without Walls founder Nancy Davis welcomed guests to the Beverly Hilton for the 24th Annual Race To Erase MS Gala, sponsored by Svedka Vodka. The event raised $1.6 million to benefit Race to Erase MS and its Center Without Walls program.

Kathy Griffin took to the stage to kick off the evening, introducing Nancy Davis. Nancy thanked singer-songwriter Siedah Garrett for being there to debut her new single, which she wrote for the event. Entitled “Carry On,” proceeds from the new song will benefit the Race to Erase MS. Davis spoke about this year’s honoree, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and the incredible impact she has had on the MS community by bravely sharing her diagnosis, and helping to bring awareness to the cause.

Lance Bass stepped onstage to present Jamie-Lynn Sigler with the 2017 Medal of Hope Award. After watching a tribute video by friends Lea Michele, JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Emmanuelle Chriqui, Sigler gave an emotional and inspiring speech, touching on the struggles she has encountered while living with MS; practically everyone in the audience was tearing up during it.

Quincy Jones introduced the first performer of the evening, saying: “My beloved baby lady sister Siedah Garrett!”

Before singing “Man in the Mirror,” the smash hit she co-wrote with Glen Ballard for Michael Jackson, Siedah said, “I am coming out tonight." Pausing, she continued: "Five years ago I was diagnosed with MS." Prior to the fundraiser, her MS diagnosis was not made public.

After that, Garrett sang her new single “Carry On” with David Foster, Shawn Hook, Olivia Keegan, David Osmond and Trevis Brendmoe.

Later, Siedah went backstage with Billboard and explained how she felt about the diagnosis. “I was devastated because I was past the time when you normally get, I was past the age group where MS shows up," Garrett says. "But when I think about it, I’ve been having symptoms for a long time and didn’t really know.”

But the diagnosis isn't slowing her down creatively. “I’m writing some music for a documentary film about an amazing man from Kenya," Garrett says. "His name was Dr. Charles Mully, and long story short, he was abandoned by his parents at six years old because they couldn’t afford to feed him. He went to bed one night with his brothers and sisters and his family and when he woke up the next morning, they had left. They had moved in the middle of the night and left him on his own. He would walk to the nearest village, spend his days begging for food because he was always hungry, and then at night, he would hide from predators. But he went on to have a very successful business and became a multimillionaire, but he said he would go to these villages every night and rescue these [abandoned] children and he would bring them home. First he brought two, then three, then eleven, then fifteen, then thousands -- tens of thousands of children are now under his care.  He and his wife built out their house to make it a compound to accommodate all these children. So now he has a huge foundation that rescues these abandoned and neglected and just throw away kids in Africa. So they did a documentary film about his life, and he became so rich that he decided he didn’t want to work for money anymore, so he gave away all of his money. His family was thinking he was insane, but he didn’t want money to be the motivating factor in his life.  So now he raises money only to care for the tens of thousands of children that he fathers. This documentary is just a testament to his life. It’s called Mully and will be released November of this year.”

That same night, Randy Jackson introduced Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Chicago, who brought down the house with a nine-song set: “If You Leave Me Now,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” “Just You 'n' Me,” “Make Me Smile,” “You’re the Inspiration,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Saturday in the Park,” “Feelin' Stronger Every Day” and “25 or 6 to 4.”

Backstage, Billboard asked Jackson if he would go back to American Idol, which is possibly returning to TV. "If they go, I go," Jackson said, referring to the other original judges.

In what has become a Race to Erase MS tradition over the past 24 years, an uplifting rendition of “Lean On Me" was performed as the finale of the evening, led by Chicago and David Foster, who were joined on stage by Nancy Davis, Randy Jackson, Lance Bass, Trevis Brendmoe, Siedah Garrett, Shawn Hook, Olivia Keegan, David Osmond, Wesley Stromberg, and more.