Throughout it’s soon-to-be 90 year history, there have been plenty of special nights at the Grand Ole Opry. Last night was definitely one of those evenings where there was more than a little magic in the Music City air.
The WSM Radio show paid tribute to the work done by St. Jude Children’s Hospital, with a night that helped to raise proceeds for the Memphis-based establishment. For close to three decades, the country music world has rallied around St. Jude, with Country Cares being one of the top charitable organizations in the format.
Alabama lead singer Randy Owen was on the bill at the Opry last night, and the Country Music Hall of Famer reflected on his early involvement with the hospital, recalling a conversation he had with actor / St. Jude founder Danny Thomas at a benefit for the hospital in Atlanta in the 1980s.
“I remember him telling me ‘I need your people,” he told Billboard. “I really didn’t understand who he was talking about – but he was talking about the country music industry. He didn’t really know them, but he knew the power of the music, the fans, and the radio stations. Over the years, we’ve raised a half a billion dollars for St. Jude. The artists and the fans care, and they show it with their support. If you can’t get excited about a night like this, you don’t need to be in the business.”
Many of the artists on the lineup last night took time to visit with several of the patients and families from St. Jude. Newcomer Chris Janson said it was definitely a moving experience for him.
“It was so emotional for me as a father and husband. I try to practice what I preach a lot, and when I’m on stage, I remind people that they need to love on their babies — and you just need to lift kids up as you can,” said the singer, whose “Buy Me A Boat” is currently No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100. “It’s something you’ve got to mentally prepare for, because they’re going through something at St. Jude that I can’t imagine dealing with. It just makes me want to raise my hand to the Lord and pray for those kids. It puts a joy in my heart to see their spirits.”
The legendary Steve Wariner said that until you come face to face with a patient, it’s hard to fathom the work that the hospital — which treats children regardless of financial status — does.
“It’s really fun to go in and visit with these kids. It gives you the perspective of what St. Jude is really about. You might see the ads on TV, but until you are around the kids, you don’t really grasp the power of it all. They just want kids to get well. You come away heartbroken in one way, but you come away feeling good that they are in the right place to get well.”
Wariner also praised the work that Owen has done over the years for St. Jude saying, “I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Randy for several reasons, but definitely because of his association with it. He’s the country music ambassador for St. Jude.”
Longtime Opry member Martina McBride echoed those sentiments, saying “He’s done such an amazing thing, and works so tirelessly for St. Jude. He takes it very seriously, and has raised a lot of money to help fight childhood cancer — and do the research they do. It’s great that he is the face of it. You can tell when someone really cares about what they are doing, or when they are just going through the motions. You can tell that he really cares about them, and about the work that they do there.”
McBride’s 2011 hit “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” has inspired many a cancer patient over the years, something the female vocalist doesn’t take for granted. “When I sing that song, I focus on the hope and the love story that it is. I definitely do think of all of the people who can relate to this song, unfortunately, and either have gone or are going through it. I try not to look in the audience because it gets really emotional seeing how people react to the song.”