Cassadee Pope, Brian Kelley Say Supporting St. Jude Speaks to the Heart of Nashville
Since it was founded by Randy Owen in 1989, Country Cares for St. Jude Kids has become one of the country's most successful radio fundraising events. Each year, the event partners country stars and other celebrities, as well as radio stations, with the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; more than $700 million in pledges has been raised to date.
Ahead of the program's annual Country Cares event in January, country artists and other celebrities came together in Nashville for the This Show Saves Lives event on Monday (Nov. 26). Many of those in attendance explained that they were proud to be a part of the giving, collaborative community of the city.
"Tennessee ain't named the Volunteer [State] for no reason," Florida Georgia Line's Brian Kelley commented backstage to The Boot and other media before the show. "Ending up here, seeing friends like A Thousand Horses and everybody else that's volunteered their time when they could be a lot of other places ... it just means a lot. So when you're around like-minded individuals and like-hearted individuals, I think it just elevates everything."
Because Country Cares' mission is centered around such an unfortunately common disease, many country stars have personal connections to the cause of fighting against cancer. However, several artists say that in addition to knowing people who have been affected by the disease, they feel compelled to come together in support of St. Jude because of the organization's presence in the community.
"Ever since I was younger, my grandmother raised me, so she would always be very vocal about how you need to support something that's bigger than yourself," recalls Kelley's wife Brittany, whose clothing line was featured in a fashion show as part of the This Show Saves Lives event. "We would always get the St. Jude calendar and support how we could. So I remember always seeing that name in our house, St. Jude."
Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, who co-hosted the event, agrees that watching members of the Nashville community coming together in support of the Country Cares initiative makes the cause even more special.
"Everybody in this show knows each other from living next door to them or being part of the influencer community in Nashville," she says. "It feels like a home show. It's like our community, our neighborhood, coming together to raise a bunch of money for the patients of St. Jude here in this state. It's pretty special."
After winning her gold medal in 2008, Johnson and other Olympians went on a tour of children's hospitals across the country; it was during this trip that she visited the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis for the first time. One little boy in particular, Johnson says, stuck with her: He wouldn't smile or speak, no matter what she asked, until she showed him her gold medal. Then, all the Olympians put their medals around his neck.
"He started smiling and laughing, and actually asked a question," Johnson recalls. "All the nurses were bawling. It was really cool."
At the time, Johnson was only 16 years old. Like many of her fellow Olympians, she was still a child herself, not much older than some of the patients she was visiting. Johnson admits that the impact of that visit didn't fully register for her until much later.
"A lot of these children are infants or toddlers, and they're fighting a harder fight than most of us will ever know," she continues. "I don't think anybody can comprehend that except the child that's going through it ... I think they're truly the heroes and fighters that we all aspire to look up to and be."
Country singer Cassadee Pope, who performed at Monday's event, says that ever since the first time she participated in the Country Cares program in 2013, she knew that she wanted to develop a long-lasting relationship with the cause. "Thankfully, they involve us a lot with music," she says. "A lot of people I know and love have been touched by cancer, and just the fact that 300,000 children [are diagnosed with] cancer every year [worldwide], it just goes to show that we need to keep supporting St. Jude."
Like many of This Show Saves Lives' celebrity attendees, Pope views the country community's involvement with St. Jude through the Country Cares organization as a point of pride. Although Nashville may be known for honky-tonks and bachelorette parties, Pope explains, the city's solidarity in support of the cause represents an important aspect of Music City's heart.
"I mean, we're such a growing community; there's so many people coming here every single day. I think it's important that, yes, tourism is going through the roof and we're making a lot of money from people going downtown and going to our shows, but I think staying true to our roots and taking care of families, taking care of each other, is really important," Pope goes on to say. "This event shows that we're not losing that aspect. We're still keeping our roots, and staying true to what we believe in and what it's all about."
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is dedicated to treating children with pediatric cancer as well as advancing cures and prevention, as well as providing treatment for all children regardless of their ability to pay. To learn more or donate, go to StJude.org.