Country Stars Share the Moment They Knew St. Jude Was Special
At a luncheon event during St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's annual Country Cares event in mid-October of 2023, Randy Owen — the lead singer of Alabama, and the driving force behind the Country Cares program — addressed a crowd full of country artists, radio personnel, journalists and more.
"I wanna ask you a question," he said. "Would you rather be a giver than a taker?"
Each year, the country music community comes together in a massive fundraising push for St. Jude, propelling the hospital's mission to treat and defeat childhood cancer and other life-threatening pediatric illnesses.
During his 2023 speech, Owen pointed to his own "St. Jude moment": That fateful day in 1989 when, after St. Jude founder Danny Thomas suggested involving country artists in fundraising for the hospital, Owen challenged Country Radio Seminar attendees to get involved in the cause. The result was the "Country Cares for St. Jude Kids" program, an initiative that has raised more than $800 million for St. Jude in the 30-plus years since its inception.
As he revisited his own "St. Jude moment" at the 2023 Country Cares event, Owen issued another challenge to audience members — to have a "St. Jude moment" of their own.
"I challenge you today to be a giver. Because givers, it's something in your heart that you can take with you 'til you die," he reflected. "...I'm 73 years old, soon to be 74, I hope, and I've never spent any time helping the kids of St. Jude that I'm sorry of. So today I challenge y'all to go out and be even more innovative than what we were."
The country community responded to Owen's call with a passion back in 1989; in 2023, that passion is as fervent as ever. Hours after listening to Owen speak, artists walking a red carpet reflected on their own "St. Jude moment" to Taste of Country and other media.
"Visiting the hospital for the first time had the biggest impact on me. It's something I think about a lot," said John Osborne, one half of sibling duo Brothers Osborne. Together with his brother TJ, the pair received the 2023 St. Jude's Angels Among Us Award for their longstanding commitment to the kids of St. Jude.
"Being in the country music community, it was very easy to get involved with St. Jude because they have such a great relationship [with the music industry]," John continued. "But once you visit, that's it. You wanna be a partner with St Jude forever. You wanna at least have some foot in the St. Jude circle."
"Mind on You" star George Birge said that he's now in his fourth year returning to visit St. Jude — but before he first came to the hospital, he was a little nervous to set foot on campus.
"It feels like this heavy thing, and obviously kids going through sickness is a really ugly thing that you wouldn't wish on anybody. But then you come here and realize [the facility is] the opposite," he says. "What I enjoy most is hearing the patients talk, and seeing that they've been given a future they might not otherwise have had, and seeing what they're doing with that future."
Chris Lane said that his appreciation for St. Jude has completely transformed since he became a dad to two young children of his own. "I've been tearing up all day," he admitted.
"But what I thought was really cool was, one of the little girls I was talking to earlier, she loves this place," Lane continued. "It was like she had no idea what was actually going on in her world. She just knows she really loves being here. I thought that was the sweetest thing. It goes to show you what kind of job they're doing."
Another country artist parent — Alex Hall — said his "St. Jude moment" came when he learned that St. Jude families never receive a bill from the hospital for treatment, travel, housing or food. Their life-saving services are provided free of charge so that families can focus on helping their child heal, and as a dad himself, Hall knows exactly how important that is.
"We've had some emergency bills, which are nothing like [the costs of cancer treatment], but they're expensive," he related. "So the fact that [families] don't have to pay for anything is a relief in its own right, and that to me is a pretty beautiful thing that people might not know."
Grammy-nominated songwriter Lee Miller — who's written hits for stars including Trace Adkins and Joe Nichols — also spoke to the financial blows cancer deals to those affected by it, and underscored how inspiring it is to see St. Jude standing up to this daunting disease each time he visits the facility.
"Can you imagine the horror that the families are going through? And the fact is, that it's expensive," he recounted. "[St. Jude is] so unique. There's nothing like it that I've ever been a part of. We get asked to do tons of benefits and charities and things, and they're all wonderful, but none of them really has a clear, focused mission done as well as St. Jude."
Up-and-comers and music industry veterans alike participated in the St. Jude Country Cares weekend, and over and over again, artists vocalized how important it is to them to be a part of something that makes a life-saving difference in children's lives.
"If you can't use [your success] for some good, I don't really understand the purpose of it," TJ Osborne said. "I think everyone wants to be rich and famous, and then you get rich and famous, and you're like, 'Well, this isn't that fun.' So what else can we do with this? That's kind of been our goal — not only with St. Jude, but as a broad-stroke philosophy."
"The universe has been great to us," John Osborne acknowledges, "and now it's time for us to be great to the universe. And what better way to do that than through St. Jude?"
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Gallery Credit: Carena Liptak