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VOL. 37 | NO. 21 | Friday, May 24, 2013

Music City, Memphis put sick kids first

By Brad Schmitt | Correspondent

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Rascal Flatts serenades a young patient in 2010 as part of the trio’s work with Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Country stars also support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.   

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For decades, country music and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have shared a special relationship that now includes title sponsorship of Nashville’s annual Country Music Marathon.

The association goes back to 1989 when Randy Owen of country super group Alabama turned Music Row’s head toward the Memphis charity hospital, long associated with Danny Thomas and his actress-daughter, Marlo.

Since then, more than 200 country radio stations nationwide have held on-air fundraisers for St. Jude, and Brad Paisley, John Rich, Keith Urban and Darius Rucker are among the stars who regularly host events or donate money to St. Jude.

“We’ve enjoyed a 25-plus-year relationship, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more philanthropic, compassionate group of people,” says Teri Watson, St. Jude’s Nashville-based senior director of entertainment marketing.

Families of children in need of the hospital’s services never pay for treatment not covered by insurance, and no child is ever denied treatment because of inability to pay, according to St. Jude’s website.

Another children’s hospital opens

About eight years ago, Vanderbilt opened its new shiny Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital – and Rascal Flatts helped turn Music Row’s head a little closer to home.

At first, Rascal Flatts’ associate manager, Jake LaGrone, thought what many Nashvillians think:

“When you think Vanderbilt, you think money.”

But the guys in Rascal Flatts discovered, after a friend’s child was treated at the Vanderbilt children’s hospital, that the Monroe Carell Jr. facility is a not-for-profit that takes patients regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.

And that’s when the members of Flatts jumped on board the Vanderbilt train.

“We’d all see fund-raising events for kids,” LaGrone says. “The guys were like, man, we need to latch onto this because it’s in our backyard.”

And when Rascal Flatts jumps in, it’s all the way: The guys have held fundraiser shows and events that have netted millions of dollars. There’s even a Rascal Flatts surgical wing now at the hospital.

And perhaps just as important, the trio blazed a trail that several other country stars have followed.

Dierks Bentley now has an annual Music & Miles bike-riding/concert event that has raised more than $700,000 for the hospital. Carrie Underwood, Alan Jackson, Trace Adkins, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw are among the other country stars who have held their own events or participated in fundraisers for Vanderbilt’s children’s hospital.

So does more country industry support for Vanderbilt mean less support for St. Jude?

Hardly.

Country radio on-air marathons from more than 200 stations nationwide still generate more than $20 million a year for St. Jude, as much as ever, Watson says.

Paisley has sponsored a room at Target House, a long-term facility for families of St. Jude patients. Rich plays a show before every Fed Ex St. Jude college football bowl game. Rucker does a St. Jude fundraiser show here in Nashville, at Wildhorse Saloon, to kick off CMA Music Fest.

Lady Antebellum supports St. Jude and Jo Dee Messina runs a marathon for the hospital every year.

Both St. Jude and Vanderbilt supporters say they don’t compete with each other.

“Not at all, Vanderbilt is a great local hospital,” Watson says.

“There’s room for everybody. There are a lot of charities in Nashville, and there’s room for everybody and certainly we’re all benefiting.”

Says Rascal Flatts’ LaGrone: “One thing I definitely want to be on record saying – St. Jude is a wonderful place, and still to this day we donate items and tickets for St. Jude fundraisers.’’

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