Since its founding in 1989, Country Cares for St. Jude has raised more than $950 million to help kids fighting cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Part of that effort is an annual seminar where country music industry professionals gather to meet patients and their families, learn about the work of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and present the Angels Among Us Award. This year’s honoree was Brothers Osborne, who joined dozens of other artists and members of the country music industry for the annual gathering. The 2023 Country Cares for St. Jude Seminar was held Oct. 12 – 14 in Memphis, Tenn. at the Peabody Hotel and also included a tour of the St. Jude campus of facilities.
To kick off the seminar, Randy Owen, lead singer of legendary country supergroup Alabama, reflected on the early origins of the event. In 1989, he was inspired by St. Jude founder Danny Thomas to rally the country radio community to do fundraisers for the organization.
“I decided to call everybody that was in radio,” Randy Owen recalled. “It was calling radio stations asking them if they would help raise money for the kids at St. Jude.” For more than three decades, country radio stations have held radiothons and other types of fundraisers thanks to Owen’s rally cry. With the evolution of music distribution, there are now even more opportunities to share the mission of St. Jude with country music fans. From radio stations and streaming music platforms to social media influencers, attendees of the event spanned across the country music industry.
Randy Owen Calls For New Generation of Artists to Give Back
During his opening remarks, Owen posed an important question to the artists in the room.
“Would you rather be a giver than a taker?” Owen made the decision to be a giver early in his career and called on others to do the same. “I challenge you today to be a giver. Cause givers, it’s something in your heart that you can take with you until you die and you feel like you’ve done something for mankind and make life better.” He continued, “Today I challenge y’all to go out and be more innovative, even greater than what we were.”
St. Jude Families Share Stories of Hope
Throughout the two-day event, several families of St. Jude patients shared their experiences and why support from the country music community is vital to saving kids’ lives. For Bob Crawford, bassist of the Avett Brothers, the connection to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is personal.
Crawford spoke to seminar attendees about how St. Jude gave his family hope when no one else would. His daughter Hallie was diagnosed with a brain tumor in October 2011 when she was just 22 months old. Crawford’s wife found Hallie in her crib having a seizure. She took her to the local emergency room in North Carolina, where they discovered a brain tumor that had taken out the entire right side of her brain.
“They said if she survives the trauma of having the tumor removed and all the strokes that she had when they removed the tumor, if she can survive that, she’s not going to survive this tumor,” Crawford recalled.
They were told to take their daughter home and love on her, that treatment wouldn’t be about survival, but about longevity [and] they didn’t feel any hope. But after receiving a St. Jude prayer card from his aunt, Crawford’s wife said that she wanted to try to get Hallie into St. Jude. He started making calls and discovered that there was one protocol that Hallie qualified for, so they made the trip to Memphis to begin her journey at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“We meet Hallie’s oncologist, and she walks in and she says, ‘yeah, Hallie has this tumor. It is really bad, but there’s hope.’ First time we heard that word, first time we heard that word, ever, right? There’s hope. We are going to try to cure her…And it was like the weight of the world was lifted off our shoulders for a moment. It gave us the energy, the momentum gave us something to cling to to make it through because there is hope and it’s okay to be afraid. And then you go through treatment or your daughter or your child goes through treatment and you do hard things.”
Hallie exceeded all expectations and is now three years out of her last recurrence, with her next scans scheduled for December.
“Our journey of hope, of fear, of doing the hard things of hope is because of you, because you are all invested. You’ve invested in us. Thank you. Thank you for investing in our family,” Crawford told the audience. “If we would’ve just stayed in North Carolina where they said, ‘just take her home. There’s no hope. Can’t beat this thing. No one beats this thing.’ If we wouldn’t have done that, if we didn’t come to St. Jude, who knows, right? But because you are invested and because you guys are going to do these radiothons and you’re going to get more people invested, we can make this journey and others who are on this journey will continue it.”
Families Never Receive A Bill From St. Jude For Treatment, Travel, Housing, Or Food
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital treats around 8600 patients per year, from all 50 states and from all around the world. In the United States, the survival rate for childhood cancer is 80%, yet it’s only 20% in the rest of the world. St. Jude freely shares its research globally to help change that number. In the next five years, St. Jude will be giving free cancer treatment medication to 120,000 patients around the world.
You can help kids fighting cancer by becoming a Partner in Hope at MusicGives.org.
Country Artists Share Reactions To Country Cares For St. Jude Seminar
For many artists attending the 2023 Country Cares for St. Jude Seminar, it was their first time visiting the hospital and its facilities. Before the Angels Among Us Award Dinner, attendees walked the red carpet and spoke with Music Mayhem about their experiences.
Chris Lane shared that as a dad, he couldn’t imagine having a child face these types of battles, but that he was inspired by the visit to St. Jude. “What I thought was really cool was one of the little girls I was talking with earlier, she loves this place. It’s almost like she had no idea of what was actually going on in her world. She just knows that she really loves being here, and I thought that was the sweetest thing. It goes to show you what kind of jobs they’re doing here.”
Randy Owen recalled how one of his visits to St. Jude inspired him to write a song about it. “I saw on this door of the window, it had a picture of a cloud and it said ‘Big Heaven.’ So I got to thinking about that and I thought, what if it’s a big heaven? It’s going to have to be a really big God that takes care of that big heaven. So I came back from being up here and wrote ‘One Big Heaven.’”
American Idol alum HunterGirl was inspired by Randy Owen’s speech about paying it forward.
“We’re all put together here on earth to help each other. There’s a reason there’s a bunch of us here on earth and getting to be a part of that and getting to meet a little girl named Olivia and getting to hear her story, and I think I’ve cried like 42 times today, but I think you hear about St. Jude so much. But actually getting to be here in the facility, seeing what’s going on and it just really inspired me. And going back to Nashville, I’m going to have St. Jude in my heart and whatever they need, I’ll always be there.”
Noah Thompson, American Idol’s season 20 winner, was surprised by his first experience at St. Jude.
“I didn’t expect to come here today and get a sense of hope,” he admits, calling the visit “really inspirational.”
For Chase Matthew, being at St. Jude in person opened his eyes to the vastness of their mission.
“There’s a reason that so many people are involved in St. Jude, and I never understood it until being here,” he says. Part of his experience was sitting down and coloring with a patient, who gave him a new perspective. “This kid right here is two years cancer free. And he still has a smile on his face. Everything he’s went through. Anybody, if you’re dealing with something, it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you keep your head up, you keep going, man, there’s positivity, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and he’s walking proof of that. That was my moment today. Believe in myself a little more too and keep persevering. If he can do it, we can do it.”
John Osborne of Brothers Osborne admitted that he has a new perspective about St. Jude now that he’s a father.
“To see it through a parent’s eyes is really heavy now. It’s heavier than it’s ever been. It does not change the fact that it is literally a godsend. It is something that is great. It’s something that’s so uplifting. They’re doing the Lord’s work at St. Jude, but it feels heavier than it’s ever felt. I’m watching a video behind you guys right now, and I’m trying not to cry, and that is, it’s almost tears of joy, tears of sorrow. It’s just all the feels. But at the end of the day, St. Jude brings so much positive to in the world, and as a parent, I just can’t be thankful enough for something like that.”
Brothers Osborne Receive Angels Among Us Award
Reigning CMA and ACM Duo of the Year winners Brothers Osborne were recognized with the 2023 Angels Among Us Award for their outstanding commitment to the children and families of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They join past winners including Scotty McCreery, Florida Georgia Line, Lady A, Jake Owen, Brad Paisley, and Darius Rucker. The pair first toured St. Jude in 2014, two years before releasing their debut album. They have played at benefit concerts, participated in the #ThisShirtSavesLives campaign, spent time with St. Jude patients, participated in radio events, provided auction items, and more.
73 year-old Randy Owen joked that the Brothers Osborne “look a lot like we did when we started.” He told Music Mayhem, “I’m a fan because it’s not about the music necessarily you put out altogether, it’s about what’s in your heart and what you do with the success you have.”
Owen also told the audience why he renewed his commitment to St. Jude 13 years ago. “How many people know what it’s like to hear those words ‘You’ve got cancer’? I do. I’m a cancer survivor. 13 years ago, I made promises again that I would give myself, do everything I could, to help the kids at St. Jude. I’ve been true to that promise and I’m cancer free.”
“We Will Always Be Champions For St. Jude”
In his acceptance speech, TJ Osborne told the audience that it felt a little odd to be accepting an award for supporting St. Jude, but that it helps them see their greater purpose.
“Obviously you want to win awards and have achievements, but then you realize what is the greater good of this and being able to be in a position to use our microphone for something as positive as this, again, it just seems like a no brainer.” He concluded, “We will always be champions for St. Jude.”
John Osborne added, “What matters most, it’s the people you love. It’s kindness. It’s the goodness. Turn the damn radio off, turn the tv off. There’s a lot of stuff to worry about, but there are beautiful things in this world and St. Jude is among the top of them. And to be a part of that, really it’s a high honor to be involved in such an amazing organization to know that something that started out as a purely self-motivation and trying to impress a girl and at some point being able to play be a small cog in this beautiful wheel that we are all a part of here at St. Jude’s. It is a great honor. We’ve had a lot of achievements and we’ve had all the awards and stuff, and this is by far one of the most important that I’ll always hold dear to my heart.”
Brothers Osborne celebrated the recognition by performing an acoustic set alongside songwriters Lee Thomas Miller and Kendell Marvel.
The honorees sang their hits “Nobody’s Nobody,” “Stay a Little Longer,” “21 Summer,” and “Ain’t My Fault.” Marvel performed his cuts “Right Where I Need to Be” (Gary Allan), “Gypsy Woman,” and “Love You Either Way” (Chris Stapleton) while Miller performed his cuts “The Impossible” (Joe Nichols), “You’re Gonna Miss This” (Trace Adkins), and “In Color” (Jamey Johnson).
“Angels Among Us”
The 34th County Cares for St. Jude Seminar concluded with a performance of Alabama’s “Angels Among Us,” led by Randy Owen. He invited all the artist attendees to join him on the dance floor to sing it together, creating a special moment that was representative of the entire seminar; a community joining forces to support the true angels among us, the kids of St. Jude.
To learn more and to become a Partner in Hope, visit musicgives.org.