Songs from the heart

Unable to tour, Latin artists lend their talents to St. Jude in intimate livestream performances that say to St. Jude families: We are here with you.

“Check, check, check,” went the test of the sound equipment. “Les estamos transmitiendo desde nuestro estudio en casa." "We are coming to you from our home studio.”

It was March 19, one of the first nights we, as a nation, seemed anchored to our living rooms, watching coverage about COVID-19 or doing what we could to keep our spirits up in spite of it.

And at 9:21 p.m., from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Facebook page: “Our friends Grupo Control are live with a virtual concert and showing their support for the kids of St. Jude! Tune in now!”

Thus, the first St. Jude livestream of the COVID-19 era began, sparking a movement.

Formed in the late 1990s, Grupo Control, a norteño band based in South Texas, are a tight outfit, but there was a looseness and laid back feel to their performance that night that called to mind a house party. Two of the members wore their St. Jude “This Shirt Saved Lives” t-shirts and black cowboy hats.

As the band played a 30-minute concert dedicated to the St. Jude families, messages of gratitude in Spanish and English popped up from fans, including this one: “Thanks for thinking of the kids at St. Jude. What y’all do is so wonderful.”

“We were blown away,” said John Ortiz, manager of radio and music development for ALSAC, the fundraising organization for St. Jude. “Right now, they’re closing in on 1 million views.”

On March 20, Latin singer Ulices Chaidez shared his livestream for the St. Jude families and fans. “Mi casa es su casa,” he said as he sat on the sofa and strummed his guitar. A one-time musical prodigy who began playing when he was only 6, he kept it pared down for his livestream, with only an acoustic guitar and that voice.

The next night, two members of La Energía Norteña broadcast their concert from their car.

And the hits keep coming as, every few days, a new concert posts.

“Now we’re talking with country artists, urban artists, rock artists and gospel artists, to do the same thing,” said Ortiz. “It started with our Latin artists, and now it’s expanding.”

Leave it to artists to take a moment of uncertainty and turn it into something that inspires.

In early March, as COVID-19 began its sweep across the U.S., shows were postponed or cancelled. Suddenly musicians had time on their hands.

To Ortiz, it seemed like a great time to enlist Latin musicians to perform for St. Jude families.

“So we went to the groups and said, ‘We just want you to share your love and support for the patients and families at St. Jude and let them know that you’re thinking about them during this time. And that you and your fans are always there to support them.’”

The artists wear their St. Jude This Shirt Saves Lives t-shirts, which by now have become recognizable to fans. The livestreams post with the hashtags #SingforStJude, #ThisShirtSavesLives, “EstaCamisetaSalvaVidas.

Ortiz said he feels especially moved when he sees posts from St. Jude families pop up during livestreams. They enjoy the performances, which has been gratifying to everyone involved.

“So as I circled back and thanked their management and thanked the artists directly, the opposite happened,” said Ortiz. “They were thanking us.”

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