Long before the Grammy nominations rolled in and Nashville billboards touted her latest album, country singer Ashley McBryde was just trying to “cut her teeth” playing music all over Memphis.
She played “everywhere” in town, but one gig stood out — Wednesday nights at Target House, volunteering to sing for St. Jude patients and their families staying at the long-term housing facility three miles from the hospital campus.
Monday, she partnered with St. Jude for a special “kiddos’ edition” of her #AllCoopedUp livestream series in these days of the COVID-19 virus. And so, in keeping with the theme, McBryde donned a dinosaur onesie and sipped chocolate milk as she sang songs, played guitar and generally tried to make this pandemic-stricken world a happier place for half an hour.
“Today’s episode goes out to all the special kiddos in our lives,” she said. “What can go wrong when you’re in a dinosaur onesie?”
She sang songs from Sesame Street, “Jungle Book,” and from John Prine, the beloved singer and songwriter who died from complication of the coronavirus. She turned the songs into lessons — Prine’s “Fish and Whistle” was about forgiveness, and singer-songwriter Guy Clark’s “The Cape,” which tells the story of a boy who believed he could fly, was about “trusting ourselves and our instincts.” She extolled the virtues of being happy, and washing your hands.
McBryde, an Arkansas native, has been a good-hearted friend of St. Jude for a long time — from her college days at Arkansas State University when she’d drive over to Memphis to perform, to her current days as a rising country star who was named “New Artist of the Year” at the 2019 CMA awards.
She visited St. Jude in 2018, just weeks before the release of her major-label debut album, “Girl Going Nowhere.” As part of the industry contingent in town for the annual Country Cares Seminar, she toured the hospital, was awed by the “super hero stuff” she witnessed in a research lab, and afterward talked about why the country music community feels feel such a kinship with the kids of St. Jude.
“Country music fans and artists and radio folks, they’re some of the most humble and hard-working people that are out there,” McBryde said. “If country music fans embrace something, stuff happens.
“For me, giving back is — you just have to do it. I get to sing songs for a living. I can stop and come find out more about this amazing place. Giving back is good for your soul. You have to do it.”
Since the pandemic, the pause button has been hit on all aspects of life and work. McBryde released a new album this month, “Never Will,” but can’t go on the road to promote it. But she’s still finding ways to make connections, and to fill the world with kindness — witness her performance of “Amazing Grace” in an empty Ryman Auditorium, during which she teared up multiple times.
The video, posted on Easter Sunday, has been viewed nearly 50,000 times on Instagram.