This post is part of the series 14 Questions
, featuring interviews with disability advocates regarding their work and insights into the Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) industry. In our latest post, Numotion Director of Advocacy Strategy, Justin Richardson interviews Austin Atteberry, Executive Director of the Sing Me a Story Foundation.
Richardson: What is Sing Me a Story? What does the Sing Me a Story Foundation do and why do you believe SMAS’s mission to be so important?
Atteberry: The Sing Me a Story Foundation™ is a program that combines the imaginations of children with the talents of songwriters to create stories and songs that bring joy to all those involved. Here’s how it works:
The Sing Me a Story Foundation believes that the greatest gift in the world is the gift of giving. If we can give the children we serve the opportunity to give the one thing they all have regardless of circumstance, their imagination, and bring those imaginations to some of the largest microphones we can find in an effort to remind us all that we have more in common than we often attribute to ourselves, we will have accomplished our goal. We believe our world is a world destined to be united and if Sing Me a Story can be one small part of that - we will have achieved our mission.
Richardson: As a co-founder of Sing Me a Story, what inspired you to begin SMAS?
- Children involved with organizations serving children in need are given the opportunity to write and illustrate stories about ANYTHING they want.
- Those stories are then distributed to our SMAS Songwriters through our website, www.SingMeAStory.org, who view the stories, turn them into songs, record them and send them back to the children by uploading them back to the site.
- SMAS Jukebox Campaigns are then created for each song uploaded in an effort to raise money for the Partnering Organizations and The Sing Me a Story Foundation.
Atteberry: In May of 2010, a beautiful girl moved in next door to my 27-year-old self in Nashville, Tennessee. Her name was Sara and she was a Child Life Specialist at a local children's hospital. Quickly, I began finding every reason I could to “run into” Sara outside our respective houses. Finally, Sara encouraged me to take my guitar and volunteer at the hospital where she worked. In an attempt to impress the cute girl next door, I signed up to volunteer the very next day.
In working with the kids on writing music, I would often ask for the children to simply tell me a story. From there, we would create stories and songs about everything from the monster under the bed, Dad saving the day, boys versus girls and of course, teenage love. In January of 2012, I decided I wanted to bring this opportunity to other songwriters and to kids all over the world who needed a boost. From those beginnings, The Sing Me a Story Foundation was born. I’ve always had a love affair with music but never before had I witnessed the power of music to heal as I did in the rooms of that children’s hospital. Furthermore, never had I known a love like the one he shared with the girl who moved in next door. On October 5th, 2013, we were married in Nashville surrounded by friends and family. The Sing Me a Story Foundation now has thousands of songwriters and is working with dozens of organizations serving children in need throughout the world. In short, that's the beginning of our story.
Richardson: What role did music play in your life prior to starting SMAS?
Atteberry: Music was a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I have two older brothers who are eight and nine years older and both of them were drummers. There was always a drum set in our home consequently and for a little boy, the ability to bang on drums was awesome. My brothers were also always into music. Consequently, at an early age, I was listening and enjoying music that was a bit more mature than most kids my age. My first concert, for example, was Grateful Dead concert at age 11 at Soldier Field. From an early age, I knew that music was going to be a big part of my life.
Richardson: Has music taken on a different meaning since starting this organization?
Atteberry: Music absolutely has taken on a different meaning since starting Sing Me a Story. It’s been a beautiful experience seeing how music has the ability to cross borders, stigmas and stereotypes to ultimately remind us that we all have far more in common than we often attribute to ourselves. There are few things in this world that have the ability to unify us all. Music certainly is one of those things.
Richardson: When you began recruiting artists for participation, how did you first approach that conversation and how difficult was it to initially sign musicians up for the program?
Atteberry: It was not all that difficult to get artists interested in Sing Me a Story. The difficult part was getting them involved. Many musicians are very busy touring and doing their best to make a living making music. It wasn’t until we started partnering with music venues and festivals that we could offer a day, time and place for artists to get involved. This development was a game changer and allowed us to dramatically increase the number of songs we were able to get back to the children we serve
Richardson: Are most of the musicians you are involved with currently of the country variety? What other genres are represented in your volunteer list?
Atteberry: We take anybody that considers him or herself a songwriter. Hence, we have artists of all different genres. The thing they have in common is that they all have a desire to do for others and the ability to bring the voices of the children we serve to the world through music.
Richardson: Does each child’s story eventually become a song?
Atteberry: Yes. We have a smaller group of songwriters and professional Music Therapists called our Sing Me a Story Inner Circle. This smaller group of Songwriters focuses solely on the stories that come into our program that are of a more sensitive nature and need to be handled with special care. Furthermore, this group focuses on any stories on the site that have been on the site for a while and not received a song. Hence, every story gets a song.
Richardson: Artists participating in the creation of SMAS songs appear to be scattered about the country and in some cases, across the world. Once an artist chooses a story, what are the next steps? What does SMAS do to help that story come to life?
Atteberry: Once an artist is signed up on our site, we send them the stories from the kids. Along with the stories, we send tips on turning the ideas presented in a story into a song. Some of those tips include best practices and other tips that SMAS songwriters have shared with us. Also, we often make short videos of the songwriters recording the songs for the children and sending a message back to the child.
Richardson: What impact do you believe this program has on the lives of children whose stories become songs?
Atteberry: So often, children in need are on the receiving end of all things charitable. This is of course for good reason. Having said that, we have found that by always being on the receiving end of charitable giving, these children are constantly reminded that they are in need. Consequently, we learned early on that if we turn the tables and ask the children we serve to give the one thing they all have to give – their imaginations – and if we bring those imaginations to the world through music, we will have provided them the greatest gift in the world… the gift of giving.
Richardson: In coordination with Numotion and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Sing Me A Story produced over 20 songs in 2018. Of those involving Numotion, which song stands out in your mind and why?
Atteberry: I know one of the most popular was the B Sizzle song by Dirty Revival. It’s not too often that we get a rap or hip hop song submitted through our program. We were so happy to have that happen and that song was awesome!
Richardson: Of all the songs recorded by SMAS artists, what are a few of your other favorites? Why do these songs/stories stand out among the rest?
Atteberry: As the Executive Director and Founder of Sing Me a Story, I don’t really have favorites. I’m just amazed every day that this little idea we had, to bring what I was doing in the children’s hospital where I was volunteering to others has now grown into thousands of other songwriters and musicians. I’m continually blown away at the generosity and compassion shown by the artist community. They all believe in the power of music and the importance of bringing the voices of children in need to the world through music.
Richardson: What would happen if a song inspired by the story of a SMAS child was picked up and became a commercial success? Considering the many talented artists participating, I imagine this would be a possibility. Has this ever been a topic of discussion within your organization?
Atteberry: It has been a topic of conversation since the inception of Sing Me a Story. Anytime a song is sold commercially, half of the royalties owed to the rights holders of that song come back to Sing Me a Story for further dissemination to the organization that the child was a part of. It isn’t our goal to have these songs sold commercially, but if one ever is, we wanted a portion of the proceeds to go back to the kids.
Richardson: After working in coordination with the Muscular Dystrophy Association in 2018, Sing Me A Story and Numotion have partnered with United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) for the 2019 campaign. What about UCP makes them a good fit for this three-way partnership?
Atteberry: Working with UCP thus far in 2019 has been nothing but a pleasure. We look forward to working with the various chapters both on the group story writing as well as creating a longer video highlighting one family and child. One of the great pleasures and privileges of working with Numotion has been their graciousness in introducing us to organizations like MDA and UCP. It’s always humbling to be a small part of the wonderful work organizations like MDA and UCP engage in every day.
Richardson: What would be the best way to learn more about Sing Me A Story and how might those interested in supporting your organization do so, financially or otherwise?
Atteberry: The best way to learn more about Sing Me a Story is to visit our website, www.SingMeaStory.org or email me at Austin@SngMeaStory.org. We are always grateful to those who wish to help further our mission of bringing the voices of children in need to the world through music. Thank you to Numotion for giving us this opportunity!