After losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s, Chris Daughtry — frontman of his eponymous, chart-topping rock band, Daughtry — has become a vocal supporter in the fight against the disease. First breaking out as a fan favorite finalist on the 2006 season of TV singing competition “American Idol,” Daughtry has since released five studio albums, sold nine million records and 22 million singles, and racked up over three billion streams. He received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song, and was recently revealed as Rottweiler on the hit show “The Masked Singer.” Below, Daughtry discusses his commitment to the Alzheimer’s cause and the power of music to connect.
You've been very involved in the fight against Alzheimer's. What drives you?
My grandmother had [Alzheimer’s] for many years before she passed and, at the time, I didn’t really know much about the disease. I remember visiting her and my brother bringing his baby daughter in, and my grandmother looking at my little niece and thinking it was me. That’s when I knew things had gotten really serious.
Studies have shown music may reduce agitation, improve behavioral issues and enrich the lives of people with Alzheimer's disease.
What memories do you have of your grandmother?
I remember she had this turntable with a radio built in, and was always turning on old school gospel hymns. Anytime I hear gospel-era Elvis, it always reminds me of my grandma.
I didn’t know my grandmother like I wish I had. And hearing things about her later that I didn’t realize — that she was apparently a great singer and played guitar — I wish she would’ve gotten to experience seeing me as a singer and performer because I don’t think she ever knew that side of me. Maybe that could’ve been something we shared.
Often, people living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers find that memories of music remain long after other memories are gone. Why do you think music has such lasting power?
It’s such a universal language. I remember growing up listening to a lot of grunge in the ’90s. I didn’t really know what was being said at the time, but I felt something. I think we all experience that with music. Half the time, we’re singing the wrong lyrics anyway. We just know we love the way it sounds and we know how it makes us feel. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that even in our old age, whether we’re living with a disease or not, it’s still equally impactful.
What are some of your earliest music memories?
I was around music all the time growing up. It was something that I kind of took for granted. My dad played guitar. My granddad played many instruments — anything with strings, really. So, I was always surrounded by it and didn’t really give it much thought until I was in high school. A friend of mine was playing his guitar one day in class and he was playing stuff that I was into, so it drew me in. It just lit a fire in me. All of a sudden, I was a musician and I was dead focused on that path.
Is there a song you've written that you've later learned has had a meaningful impact on someone's life?
There’s a song called “Gone Too Soon,” which I wrote with a friend of mine, Michael Busbee. Ironically, he passed away last year due to Stage 4 brain tumors and he was only 43. To hear the impact that song has had on so many parents who have lost their child … it’s heartbreaking and at the same time, it’s so validating to know that you’re writing something that’s actually changing people’s lives in a positive way.
You recently participated in the '80s-themed Dance Party to End ALZ, a fundraiser for the Association. Why did you perform Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell"?
Well, it’s one of my favorite ’80s songs and we used to cover it onstage quite a bit. It gets the crowd amped up. It was fun to embody that spirit of Billy Idol and that reckless abandon, rock-and-roll attitude that he has. I had a really sweet wig!
You kicked off a new tour this spring and will be meeting lots of fans — many who have their own connection to Alzheimer's. What lessons would you share?
I wish I would have taken my guitar and played music for my grandmother and hopefully put a big smile on her face. I think it’s about knowing how to comfort and add to the quality of life during those difficult times. Find out what they love and just surround them with it.
ALZ: A magazine of the Alzheimer's Association
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