Country music’s Darren Warren makes music — and more — for St. Jude

For most musicians, making it big means being at the top of the charts or sold-out shows in huge arenas. Darren Warren defines success differently.

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  •  7 min

Darren Warren visits St. Jude campus

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Darren Warren was waiting his turn to use the pay phone in a hallway at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital when he heard the woman’s voice break.

She was hunched over, crying, the phone’s handset pressed to her ear. “I’m just calling to let you know,” Darren heard her say, “my baby got her wings.”

Darren was 17 and at St. Jude for treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. He recognized the woman on the phone as the mother of another patient, a girl, who was maybe 9 years old. 

Darren saw the girl almost every day in the waiting area outside the treatment rooms. She always wore a mask and sat apart from the other kids. But Darren would smile and wave. She’d wave back.

Now Darren felt like his heart had dropped into his stomach. 

Late that night, Darren picked up his guitar, playing with a melody and scribbling lyrics, trying to make sense of what happened. 

And just before she closed her eyes, I heard her say,

Hey mommy, it’s time for me to go,

because I just heard God tell someone to bring my angel home.

He said, go, get my angel, and bring her home to me.

Darren took up the guitar at 5. The son of a Pentecostal pastor, he’d grown up listening to gospel music. But when he was 11 and wrote his first song, “Lord Help Me Know,” the lyrics were gospel but the sound distinctly country.

When Darren played it for his mom, she said, “Honey, we kind of went from Jesus to the jukebox, didn’t we?”

Music helped Darren get through almost three years of treatment at St. Jude.

“It was definitely a channel for me, whatever I was going through,” he said. The harder things got, the more he played.

The night the little girl died, Darren didn’t stop playing until he finished the song he called, “Go Get My Angel.” Darren imagined the little girl could hear it. Hear his loss in the notes. Hear his hope in the lyrics.

Yes, she’s had her share of pain. I’m gonna set her free.

even though she’s been broken, she’s gonna be OK

‘cause it’s beautiful flowers like her that make up God’s bouquet.

Teenaged Darren couldn’t have imagined that he’d someday record that song with the legendary Randy Owen, nor that music would help him give back to the place that saved his life.

‘It could be cancer’

Darren grew up in rural Kentucky, riding four-wheelers and singing in the church choir, homeschooled by his mom and working construction with his dad.

Darren was 16, eating cheeseburgers in his truck with his older brother, Perry, in late 1998 when he glanced in the rear-view mirror. 

“Man, I'm getting a double chin,” Darren said. Maybe too many cheeseburgers. Then he felt a hard lump beneath his chin. 

Darren Warren

“Dude, you need to get that checked out,” Perry said. “It could be cancer.”

“You’re crazy,” Darren told him. Perry ratted Darren out to his parents, and his doctor recommended removing the lump. A week later, the doctor told Darren that he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Darren couldn’t believe it. He didn’t even feel sick.

Darren was referred to St. Jude, a three-hour drive away. Walking toward the entrance of St. Jude with his parents, Darren stopped short, looked up at the building and asked quietly, “God, why are you putting me in this hell?”

Inside St. Jude, Darren said he found something closer to heaven. He learned he could survive it.

The chemotherapy attacked the cancer — and ravaged his body. Steroids caused him to gain 65 pounds. His hair fell out. Once, in a public bathroom, Darren didn’t recognize himself in the mirror and was startled, thinking someone had followed him inside. 

Darren tried to imagine his future — if he’d get one at all. 

He finished treatment in July 2001 and went into remission. At almost 19, Darren knew what to do with his second chance at life. 

Playing with purpose

Darren went on the road with his guitar. He played late at shows and got up early to share his St. Jude experience on radiothons to benefit St. Jude — sometimes calling or visiting as many as 80 stations a year — and performed at events to benefit St. Jude.

He wanted other kids to get the same chance.

Darren Warren chats with a St. Jude patient.

Darren kept working in construction – for his dad, and then on his own. “It was kind of a rough life,” Darren said.

His big break came in 2007 when a radio disc jockey in Paducah, Kentucky, played his song, “Kentucky Friday Night.” Other stations picked it up, driving bigger audiences to his shows. Darren opened for big-name performers — and was offered a record deal. 

He donated a portion of sales from his 2011 album, “Cowboy Up and Party Down,” to St. Jude. It included “Go Get My Angel” and featured Country Music Hall of Famer and lead singer of Alabama Randy Owen.

Darren had met Owen at Country Cares for St. Jude Kids, a program Owen started in 1989, rallying musicians, radio stations and listeners to support St. Jude. Since then, Country Cares has raised more than $950 million for St. Jude.

Owen heard Darren perform “Go Get My Angel” in 2010 and offered his vocals if Darren recorded it. The song became a fan favorite. 

‘Miracle in Memphis’

Darren wrote another song about St. Jude, “Miracle in Memphis,” finishing it in his Memphis hotel room while at a Country Cares for St. Jude Kids event in 2012.

Owen asked him to perform it. “I was nervous as I could be,” Darren said. As a patient, he’d sat in the audience at this event and watched Travis Tritt, Martina McBride and Aaron Tippin perform.

On stage, Darren pulled up a stool, looked out at the audience that included patient families, and played:

Darren Warren visits St. Jude campus

Now there’s miracles in Memphis

That bring a smile to an angel’s face

Some folks say the hand of God is resting on this place

Well, believe what you want to

I know the truth

If you want to see a miracle in Memphis

I’m living proof

If you want to see a miracle in Memphis

There’s living proof.

When Darren finished, he swiped at his tears. The audience already was on its feet. 

Defining success differently

For most musicians, making it big means being at the top of the charts or performing in front of sold-out crowds in huge arenas. Darren defines success differently.

With his album moving up the country music charts, Darren decided to spend less time on the road to focus on his construction business for the financial stability of his growing family.

Darren had met his wife, Amanda, in 2004 at a New Year’s Eve party. They married in 2008. With an increased risk for infertility after his chemotherapy treatment, Darren and Amanda decided to adopt. 

Darren Warren and family

 “There’s a ton of kids out there in the world who need us,” Darren said, “and we need them.”

Darren and Amanda became foster parents to two girls, Delanie and Abree, in 2009 and finalized their adoption on Valentine’s Day 2011, when the girls were 3 and 2, respectively. Three years later, they adopted their son at birth, naming him Kannon Jude. In 2019, they adopted at birth their second son, Emory.

Darren loves being a dad. People say his kids are lucky to have him and Amanda, but Darren knows that’s not true. “We’re lucky to have each other,” he said. 

Darren feels lucky in a lot of ways.

“I wouldn’t take anything for going through what I went through,” he said. It made him more empathetic and gave him an unbridled appreciation for life, his family and friends. 

“I don't care if you have cancer or you don't, there are things that come at you that are stumbling blocks,” Darren said. “If we can take those stumbling blocks and make them into steppingstones, we can help more people and do things to change people's lives.”

He’s still making music, but what Darren loves most is what he does to help St. Jude

He visits St. Jude, most recently in May for St. Jude LIFE, an unprecedented study of former St. Jude patients to improve survivors’ health by examining long-term effects of pediatric cancer and treatment. 

His favorite visits to St. Jude are when he plays for patient families with the kids singing along to “Old MacDonald had a Farm.”

That feels like making it big.

‘Bigger than anything else’

It’s not surprising when Darren founded Stor-Mor Portable Buildings in 2017, he wanted to become a St. Jude corporate partner. He made it official in 2021, determined to raise $100,000 annually.

Stor-Mor raises money for St. Jude by donating $10 for every building sold, offering discounts for donations, and through employee giving and soliciting donations from community members and business partners.

Darren Warren with St. Jude patients

“You don’t do anything good for show. You do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Darren said. It gives a greater purpose to their work. But this kind of corporate giving is good for business, too. Customers like knowing their purchases support St. Jude.

Stor-Mor employees are proud of what they’re doing — and want to do more. So does Darren.

“I’m not going to take a deep breath until we’re donating one million dollars a year,” he said.

Stor-Mor has committed to raising $250,000 for St. Jude in 2024. For Darren, every dollar is a chance.

“That is our mission. That is what we are here for — to make a difference in kids’ lives,” Darren said. “No matter what I do — how much money I make, how many songs I record, this is so much bigger.”

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