Billy Gilman Sings from the Heart

by Kathy Wechsler on September 1, 2005 - 3:06pm

QUEST Vol. 12, No. 5
Everything and More Music Through Heartsongs Dare to Dream Christmas Album One Voice

As his music career continues to skyrocket, award-winning recording artist Billy Gilmans commitment to the Muscular Dystrophy Association never falters. In fact, like the 17-year-olds voice, it only deepens.

'Awaken the Music'

Back from a two-year period of vocal rest caused by a changing voice, the Hope Valley, R.I., teen this spring released his fifth album, "Everything and More," a fun mix of traditional country, pop, rock-flavored country and bluegrass. Billy, who'd released four CDs before his 15th birthday, dedicated his latest project to the late Mattie J.T. Stepanek (see "Mattie's Heartsongs").

Influenced by Mattie's positive attitude and message of hope and peace, Gilman has added a new sound and style to his music.

"I pay much closer attention to detail and to meaning, thanks to Mattie, because the messages in his poetry were so deep and so innocent at the same time," said Gilman, who made friends with MDA's National Goodwill Ambassador in 2002. "His poems set the standard for the message I want to have for the rest of my life throughout my music."

Recordings, performances, media appearances, interviews, promotional tours, and photo and album signings are time-consuming for a powerhouse vocalist like Gilman. That schedule doesn't leave him with much downtime, but Billy's relationship with Mattie only has made him work harder to put an end to neuromuscular diseases.

'Everything and More'

Serving his third term as MDA's National Youth Chairman, Gilman leads thousands of teenagers and young adults in their efforts to support the Association through MDA's Teens Against Dystrophy program.

"My career's important, but working with MDA is a little more important," Gilman said. "Time is fragile for some kids and adults. We have to fight for that cure every day!"

When longtime MDA sponsor DECA (an association of marketing students) held its International Career Development Conference in 2003, Billy represented MDA for the first time. Since then, Billy has been invited each year to the annual gathering of some 13,000 high school students and advisers to present awards and speak about the important connection between DECA and MDA.

Gilman also has sung at conferences of the brokers, agents and associates of ERA Real Estate, another longtime MDA national sponsor, and attends MDA benefits across the country.

In June, Gilman and his co-manager and vocal coach, Angela Bacari, traveled to MDA's national headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. During their stay, Gilman videotaped public service announcements, segments of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon and an MDA summer camp training video.

Gilman will be in the Telethon spotlight hosting youth segments and performing songs from his new album this Labor Day weekend.

"Meeting some of the families we serve and seeing the magic happen during Telethon, it's all a wonderful experience. It's been a really wonderful time," he said.

'Something 'Bout Heaven'

This summer Billy made his first visit to MDA summer camp. Accompanied by his parents, Bill and Fran Gilman, and his brother, Colin, 14, Billy attended Open House/VIP day and autographed pictures and CDs for campers at Camp Florian in Canton, Mass.

"I got to see firsthand what summer camp is all about," he said. "My favorite part was how the kids have the opportunity to go horseback riding, a fun activity they might not be able to do outside of camp. I can't wait to go next year!"

The fourth- and fifth-graders' 2004-2005 school year at New Albany Elementary School in Ohio was extra special, thanks to the joint efforts of Billy Gilman and Mattie Stepanek. In a year-round project called Learning Through Heartsongs, 26 teachers received Gilman's Music Through Heartsongs CDs, which feature Mattie's poems put to music, as well as Mattie's books of poetry.

Designating one song from the CD and its corresponding poem from the books to each month of the school year, teachers gave thought-provoking assignments to interpret each poem. The school created a Heartsong Hallway to recognize and display students' work. Fourth-grade classes also held fund-raisers, raising $2,400 for MDA.

Learning Through Heartsongs gave the students opportunities to understand more about muscular dystrophy, while providing fun and a creative outlet. The school plans to use the program as a model for future exploration of diversity through poetry and music.

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