The Rock Remedy: 500 Songs for Kids

Music Features

“She’s wanted to be a professional singer ever since she could speak,” says Hannah Layfield’s mom, Tammy.

But when Hannah was five-years-old, the music seemed to stop. She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia in February of 2005. For the next 27 months, Hannah was treated at the Medical Center of Central Georgia near her small town and her loving family. At the completion of treatment, Hannah was cured.

Hannah’s soundtrack was not only back on but it was more joyful than ever. “We were thrilled that she was finally going to get to be a normal little girl again,” recalls Tammy.

Then, just days before Hannah and her family celebrated her third anniversary of being cancer-free, Hannah found a lump by her ear. The mass turned out to be a leukemic tumor. Hannah had relapsed. It was April 2010. Hannah was 10. Taylor Swift time was over.

She faced another 27 months of chemo-packed treatment. This time, the doctors said, would be three times more severe. After a month of intensive treatment, Hannah’s little body began to give up. She suffered a stroke with a brain bleed and a blood clot. Now, in addition to the chemo and struggle to merely survive, Hannah also had to learn to walk all over again.

The moment Hannah was able to leave the ICU she and her mom went to hang out in one of the youth lounges. As they came closer, Hannah heard music. Her eyes lit up. Not only was she finally back on the road to recovery, but someone was playing live music in the lounge.

“His hair and his facial expressions cracked me up,” Hannah says to describe what she saw that day. “It’s super funny when he sings girl songs. He changes his voice, he makes it really high to sound like Justin Bieber.” Hannah is talking about Josh Rifkind, the Founder of Songs for Kids Foundation.

Seven years ago Rifkind, the former manager of Atlanta band The Whigs, was inspired by Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. He decided to bring together musicians of all kinds from all over the country to play all 500 songs. The 500 Songs for Kids event was born. Its mission, executed by the Songs for Kids Foundation, is to bring music to children in need at hospitals and special needs kids camps. Now in its sixth year, 500 Songs for Kids has had to get creative with its 10 night, 50 songs by 50 different artists and bands event—inventing a number of other superlatives for the 500 songs performed live each May at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta.

Musicians ranging from Edwin McCain to Cee-Lo Green to Rifkin himself donate their time and talent on stage to raise money so the Songs for Kids Foundation can serve children all over Georgia and Los Angeles. Many musicians take it a step further by performing at the children’s hospitals, camps and even at their bedsides.

Songs for Kids has grown from 18 hospital visits in 2007 to over 500 in 2011. They have also recently expanded outside of just performing for the kids. Now hospitalized children, like Hannah, have a chance to make their dreams come true.

“I was in the clinic doing chemo and listening to my favorite artist, Kari Jobe, when it hit me that I should write a song of my own,” explains the now 12-year-old Hannah. “I wrote a song about how God is trying to use me in all of this.”

At 12, Hannah knows all of the names and uses of her plethora of medications. She knows everything a middle-school student should know to do well in school. And Hannah knows that her life is meaningful. She uses music to share her deep, wise-beyond-her-years feelings.

Hannah told her Child Life Specialist about her song. The Specialist told Rifkin. Rifkin and his team from the Songs for Kids Records program rigged a professional recording studio in the Egleston Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospital. Hannah recorded her song to their professional music and now, at just 12 years old, her life dream to be a recording artists is reality!

Hannah is scheduled to complete treatment again in September of this year—just in time for her 13th birthday. All she wants is to be a healthy singer and to see a live Kari Jobe show. “And for everyone to help Rifkin and support Songs for Kids,” she adds.

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