There’s a reason why they’re called “mysteries of the universe.” Man was never supposed to have an answer for everything. Besides, it’s simply too much fun to ponder the imponderable. Just exactly how much wood can a woodchuck chuck anyway? And that chicken and egg thing? Which really did come first?
But the paradox of all paradoxes is simply this: how is it that there are still people that don’t know about Country Cares for St. Jude Kids after twenty plus years of caring?
Alabama front man Randy Owen started Country Cares in 1989 when he challenged his fellow country music artists and appealed to radio stations and loyal country music listeners to help support the lifesaving mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Since then, Country Cares has raised more than $400 million for St. Jude.
Phoenix’ KMLE Camel Country 108 got into the act in a big way this past December, holding their first ever Country Cares for St. Jude Kids Radiothon and raising more than $330,000.
Early this year, the charity held their 23rd Annual Country Cares Seminar at St. Jude’s. The country music industry shifted just a bit to the southwest on January 13 as hundreds of industry professionals and artists left Nashville for Memphis to be part of the yearly event.
More than two dozen artists including Martina McBride, Kix Brooks, Eli Young Band, Eden’s Edge and Darren Warren spent the morning touring St. Jude. They posed for pictures, signed autographs and offered encouraging words to St. Jude patients and their families.
On the heels of Country Cares’ noteworthy seminar, Owen paused to chat with modenook.com about the charity and St. Jude’s life-saving mission.
The heroic – and unpredictably unheard of – organization got a well-deserved boost from country star John Rich’s successful run on last year’s The Celebrity Apprentice. Owen was grateful for the exposure for Country Cares. And, uh, the “modest” contribution was kind of nice too.Rich competed on the hit NBC show on behalf of St. Jude, winning more than $1.4 million for the hospital.
“Oh, I think there’s always things along the way that help it out,” agreed Owen. “As far as I’m concerned, anything that brings about more awareness to helping the kids, you know, more, more, more!”
At this year’s Country Cares seminar, the organization recognized Rich’s astounding efforts on their behalf by presenting him with the first-ever Angels Among Us Award. The award recognizes a member of the country music industry who demonstrates an immeasurable commitment to kids battling cancer and other deadly diseases at St. Jude’s.
Rich first walked through the doors of St. Jude more than 15 years ago with his guitar and entertained a group of patients. Since then, he’s continued his support of the hospital as a Country Cares artist.
Owen lauded Rich’s contributions to St. Jude. “This past year John really embodied what Country Cares for St. Jude Kids is all about. It’s really unbelievable to look back over the past 23 years and see what the country music industry has helped us accomplish for St. Jude. This award is a way for us to say thank you to select members of the industry for their continued commitment and support.”
The Alabama singer had a hunch that Rich would do some great things on the reality show. “You know, John’s a cool guy and he does all this stuff. And that’s part of being John Rich. But he has a great heart and a great wife and I’m very thankful. I was praying every time I’d see that show. (Donald)Trump – down at Mira Largo, there in Florida – we went down to his place and I think raised a million dollars there a few years ago.”
“So I thought, ‘Maybe there’s a good chance, unless something unusual happens, that John may win this.’ Because I thought Trump’s heart might be there. So as it worked out, I think it was really, really great for St. Jude. And I think it might have even been better for John, not because of popularity, but for what it did for his soul.”
It didn’t take long to realize that Rich isn’t the only country singer that’s been infinitely impacted by their involvement with the children’s charity.
“I can only speak for me but it’s a really special thing. It’s really hard. When I leave from a visit over there, I just feel better about my life. And I somehow I feel better about the world. Even though we have all these problems, it’s just good to know there are people who are willing to go to their task every day and help save the lives of children.”
“As far as I’m concerned, being able to play music and hopefully, encourage people from my field to get involved and help with the cause, that’s really been rewarding. It really has.”
Owen’s original motivation for launching the charity didn’t stem from earthquakes and lightning – or anything of the sort. It was really just that – well, he cared. And after all these years, he still does.
“I just felt in my heart – I don’t know how to describe it – but I just felt like my heart was telling me ‘Do this!’ And I had no idea what ‘this’ was, to tell you the truth – what this might become.”
“The music is an instrument that was God given. I chose to follow my heart and to use the talent and the notoriety or whatever you call it to be involved with St. Jude. It just seems like it’s been a short period of time when I think of what great strides have been made. It’s really been so amazing to see.”
“And to know the kind of music that put bread on my table and help me and my wife survive in this world is helping save lives of children? I just feel like it’s real important that it’s worked out that way, that what I do for a living has helped save the lives of children.”
“And the other great artists and writers and publishers and record companies and everything – they’ve been a huge part of it. Like I’ve always said, ‘It’s not about me. It’s about we.’”
To Owen, working with the children is just a logical extension of his music – a way to say “thank you” for his God-given gifts.
“Well, yeah, it has to be. First of all, nobody would’ve cared who I was if it wasn’t for the music. I’m just proud to be a part of something that’s been – and still is – so beautiful. It’s just so, so humbling and so touching to see the parents and see the little kids that I’ve seen over the years.”
“And then to know there’s been a huge difference made. I’m just proud to have known some of the people and some of the families. It’s been very special in my life and in my family’s life, ‘cause they’ve been a big part of it. I’ve had their full support and there’s never any complaining from my wife. There’s only been encouragement.”
County artists have a unique ability to take a sad story and turn it into something positive. So it’s no surprise that the music genre’s involvement with St. Jude works so well.
“Well, county music – any kind of music really, if it’s a good song, can do that. But you know, I think it’s as much about taking a really, really happy song and you use the popularity of that song with the kids. Or if you’ve written a really sad song and it becomes very popular, you use the popularity of that song.”
“Especially when we do our songwriter’s thing there. I never say, ‘Hey you guys and girls only do real positive songs, real upbeat songs.’ Because you know, we cry, we laugh, we drink, we smile, and we shout. We’ve had everything close to a revival religious experience to people drinking Jack Daniels. It’s all in there. It’s all in the music that we play there with the song writers.”
“Everybody’s life has been blessed because of the great writers we have there on Saturday night. Some of the writers I know that’s been very successful will come and do their gig and then they make a donation — and sometimes it’s a lot.”
“I remember Merle Kilgore. He was a huge hit when he came there and sang and played his songs and then gave a sizable amount. I don’t know what it was, but I know it was sizable to the kids at St. Jude. So he wasn’t just there for show. He was there ‘cause his heart was in it.”
“A lot of great people and a lot of great memories – and I’m sure there’s many more to come. Because when you do it because it’s in your heart, it’s in your soul and it’s in your anatomy to do that, then good things happen.”
“It’s not work. I’m just thankful that they associate me with St. Jude’s. What a great association. It’s a great mission in life to think about saving children.”
Owen has been involved with Country Cares for so long that his name is virtually synonymous with the hospital. So much so that it would be a tossup as to whether or not to introduce him first as the frontman for an award winning country band or as the founder of a fantastic children’s charity.
“That’s a really easy answer. If I’m trying to raise money for St. Jude, I want to be the guy with Country Cares. If I’m trying to bring about awareness to St. Jude, that’s when I want to be the guy that sings lead for Alabama.”
“It’s still amazing to me that there’s some people that don’t know what St. Jude is. And it’s also amazing how many do know. I stopped at Starbucks yesterday and this lady walked up to me and she says ‘I’m sure you don’t know me but I know you. And I thank you for what you do at St. Jude’s. My husband and I are regular donors and that’s our charity.’”
“She said ‘There’s only one other we do – Wounded Warriors and St. Jude.’ So I thought that was quite a compliment. That’s the kind of stuff that makes you feel good.”
And with all of the stuff around us that seems to constantly drag us down, it’s wonderful to have something that makes us feel good. For that we can thank Randy Owen and Country Cares.