Luke Bryan on Country Cares for St. Jude Kids: ‘It’s the Best of All Causes’
Country stars have been supporting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for almost 30 years, thanks to Country Cares for St. Jude Kids, an initiative started by Alabama's Randy Owen in 1989, to encourage country artists to help the worthwhile cause. As September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, several artists -- including Luke Bryan and Nashville stars Charles Esten and Clare Bowen, along with Owen -- recently performed at the Grand Ole Opry, with a portion of the proceeds from the show going to St. Jude.
"For me, it’s so great to see other artists that I love become involved," Owen shared with The Boot and other reporters during the event. "My influence is not what it was in 1989, so it’s great to see the younger stars coming out."
Owen, whose efforts have resulted in artists such as Darius Rucker, Charles Kelley, Brett Young, Old Dominion, Cole Swindell and more supporting St. Jude through Country Cares, says he is still amazed at the extent to which Country Cares has expanded.
"The legendary Grand Ole Opry has now become a partner, if you will, with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital," Owen adds. "That’s a really, really big, influential partner to have, in my opinion, on our team, so I’m very grateful just to be part of it."
Bryan, who has two sons and is also raising his nephew, Til, says it's his role as a father, not his role as a superstar, that inspires him to help St. Jude.
"That’s the main thing about being a parent: You tuck them in at night and you say your prayers that they go through this life safe and unscathed," Bryan says, "and you certainly pray that you never have to deal with what the parents at St. Jude have to deal with."
The "Light It Up" singer, who says that he always tries to stop by St. Jude when he is in the Memphis area, was also sure to give a nod to Owen and the tireless work he has done through Country Cares.
"He’s the godfather of it, and it’s been a very important life’s work of his," Bryan notes. "It’s an amazing organization, and whenever you see that name, you trust and you know it’s the best of all causes."
Esten, a father of three, spent time backstage at the Opry interacting with Kael, a 5-year-old who lost his leg to cancer as an infant. The actor feels a personal tug to help St. Jude, since one of his own daughters, Addie, was stricken with leukemia as a child.
"I thought I knew how to pray before my daughter got sick. I didn't," shares Esten. "I learned how to pray when my daughter got sick. And I found that, when we go to our knees, symbolically, as little kids in church, what you're doing is, you're replicating what you do when you can't do anything else: You drop to your knees. And so, that's what we did. And through God's grace and all the research and all the funding, my daughter just won the national championship for girls under 18 for the Tennessee Soccer Club."
Esten, who has yet to visit St. Jude (but promises to stop in soon), is honored to be part of a music community that is so active in supporting the worthy cause.
"I think Nashville has, obviously, a special place in [St. Jude's] heart, and for some reasons," adds Esten. "The fact that they just take care of the bills for these families is just over and above the way that makes it magical, makes it such a godsend to so many."
Esten's Nashville co-star Bowen feels a personal connection to St. Jude, as well: She herself battled cancer as a child. Told when she was four years old that she had two weeks to live, Bowen spent a year in a hospital recovering, creating in her an empathy for the children she encounters in the halls of St. Jude.
"I would not be standing here without everything that organizations like St. Jude does," Bowen states. "It's so lovely to see everyone else made aware of what they really go through and see, particularly children, not treated as an illness, but treated as people ...
"When you've grown up in a hospital, you always feel like you don't belong there, but you fit there ... And it doesn't have to be a scary place," Bowen continues. "And St. Jude has really done wonders at making it a space where children can survive and flourish at all the different age groups. It's so important in the development of a child -- just in their emotional and mental, their health, capacity -- to be seen as little people and be respected for what they're going through and the stage of life they're at outside of an illness. And so, walking through the St. Jude halls, it's seeing things I know and I remember."
To date, Country Cares has raised more than $700 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. To make a donation, visit their website.
See Photos From the 2017 Country Cares for St. Jude Kids Weekend