For nearly 30 years, the country music industry has helped support the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through its Country Cares for St. Jude Kids program. In that time, country music radio stations have marshalled their audiences, organized radiothons and raised more than $750 million for the hospital.
An early pioneer of the Country Cares movement was Don Langford. While working as program director for a California radio station, he was summoned to the hotel room of Randy Owen, lead singer of legendary group ALABAMA. Owen was the spark that ignited Country Cares.
Langford says he had no interest in working with the initiative at the time.
“I drove to the hotel rehearsing all of my reasons why I was not going to be a part of Country Cares—it’s a hospital in Memphis, it doesn’t affect me on the West Coast—and 10 minutes later, I’m on the board,” Langford says.
Then Langford visited St. Jude, where he saw firsthand the dream St. Jude founder Danny Thomas had envisioned and Owen advocated.
Seven years later, the unthinkable happened: Langford’s daughter, Analise, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
“Three days later, we were in Memphis,” he says. “When I walked into the hospital, I was no longer a member of the board, program director of a radio station or chairman of the Academy of Country Music. I walked in the door as a father, so it was a whole different experience.”
The experience reaffirmed his original commitment to St. Jude and drove home the mission he’d spent so much time broadcasting.
Today, Analise is healthy and has a family of her own. Her father is semiretired, still on the board of Country Cares and taking every opportunity to raise awareness for St. Jude.
“I think we’d all like to say, at the end of our day, that we did something that will leave a mark,” Langford says. “And this is something I can say: That, in a small way, I was part of something that got very big, very fast.”
To learn more about Country Cares, the hospital’s other radio programs or the newest fundraising campaign, Music Gives to St. Jude Kids, visit stjuderadio.org.
From Promise, Spring 2018