April 23, 2015

Brooks, Spalding tune up music industry support

Donating your own money, time and energy to a charitable cause is one thing. Asking friends and colleagues to join you in pursuit of a fundraising goal is something altogether different.

Children’s Hospital supporter Kix Brooks, center, at his Arrington Vineyards winery with, from left, Vanderbilt’s C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., Meg Rush, M.D., Jeff Balser, M.D. Ph.D., and Luke Gregory. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

Donating your own money, time and energy to a charitable cause is one thing. Asking friends and colleagues to join you in pursuit of a fundraising goal is something altogether different.

Kix Brooks and Clarence Spalding apparently wouldn’t consider themselves natural born fundraisers. But the Nashville music industry veterans happen to share a deep and longstanding commitment to the children and families served by Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, and this shared devotion has led them to become two of the hospital’s leading advocates.

Clarence Spalding, second from left, with, from left, Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus, John Russell of Arrington Vineyards, and Allison DeMarcus at the kickoff of the Growing to New Heights campaign. (photo by John Russell)

“Raising money is uncomfortable in the very beginning. I think for Kix and I both, it’s just a little uncomfortable,” Spalding said. “But not once we get talking about it.”

Children’s Hospital will start construction on a $100 million, four-story expansion later this year. When completed, the new tower will add 160,000 square feet atop the hospital’s existing structure. The first floor to be completely built out will be primarily devoted to critical care.

When talking to prospective donors, “I focus on the two first floors. If we complete those two floors, I look at that and go, ‘how many lives are we going to save that couldn’t otherwise have been saved?’ And when it gets to that part of it, it’s easy for me to talk about,” Spalding said.

Spalding and Brooks are among co-chairs for the $40 million Growing to New Heights Campaign in support of the expansion, and they’re focusing on prospective benefactors from Nashville’s music industry. (The campaign is chaired by Kathryn Carell Brown, daughter of Monroe Carell Jr. Other co-chairs include Rick Dreiling, chair and chief executive officer, Dollar General Corp.; Steven Hostetter, CEO, TriStar Energy LLC; and Bob Rolfe, CEO, Medical Reimbursements of America Inc.)

Spalding leads Maverick Nashville, a music management firm representing Brooks, Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Terri Clark and Seth Alley.

Brooks came to fame as one half of country music duo Brooks & Dunn, who’ve recorded 23 No. 1 singles and sold more than 30 million albums.

“I’m not the best at just asking people for money, because I know the people that I’m asking — the people that can really give, that can really make a difference — are the same people that get asked for everything that needs help in Nashville,” said Brooks, who has been on the board of Children’s Hospital for nearly two decades.

“And they’re all worthy causes. So what makes Children’s Hospital more important? All I know is what I’ve seen, and what’s in my heart.”

In the early ‘90’s, Brooks & Dunn were asked by their manager at the time to donate all proceeds from what would be their first sold-out Nashville appearance (at Starwood Amphitheater) to Children’s Hospital.

“That’s a big ask, I thought,” Brooks says with laughter. “Maybe I should go down there and see what this is. And after spending a couple of hours in there talking to families and children, I’m like, good grief, you bet! I can’t imagine anyone with a heart not embracing what’s going on at Vanderbilt Children’s.”

There’s no single route to charitable giving, Brooks says. But a visit to Children’s Hospital can be a potent motivator for many, including artists and music industry executives.

“I think the common denominator between all of us in the music business is, if you ever walk through those doors at Children’s Hospital, and if you ever walk into a room, and if you ever see the courage of a child or the face of a parent and realize what they’re going through, you will be involved.

“God knows, I’ve lost my mother and my sister to breast cancer. There are so many causes out there we all need to give our attention and our resources to. But I always come back to those kids. And man, they’re fighting so hard.

“They’re sitting there right now — 3-year-olds, 5-year-olds, preemie babies — and we’re sitting here having a conversation, and time is of the essence. The quicker we can raise money to try to help them, the better off the world will be as far as I’m concerned,” Brooks said.

For his dedication to Children’s Hospital and other worthy causes, the Country Music Association recently honored Brooks with the inaugural CMA Foundation Humanitarian Award.

Spalding has been a Children’s Hospital supporter for nearly a decade. He also has served on the Bill Wilkerson Center advisory board and the VUMC Entertainment Industry Partner Committee.

Last year, while visiting the hospital with Rascal Flatts, he was reminded why he’s a Children’s Hospital booster. Spalding’s son played basketball at Father Ryan High School and Spalding got to know the other basketball families. There was a girl, Brittany Burns, “who was ‘Miss Social’ and loved country music, and when she found out what I did, we became fast friends,” Spalding said. Burns later went to college at UT Chattanooga.

And then Spalding later found out she had cancer.

When Rascal Flatts visited the hospital last spring, she was sitting on the front row for their performance.

“She had lost 60 pounds and had no hair. We started hugging and crying and the guys were performing and didn’t know what was going on,” Spalding said. “We invited her back to have lunch with the guys, and she said she just wanted to make it to Music Fest.

“I can’t imagine hearing that as a parent, that your child just wants to live a few months more. She couldn’t handle any more chemo, and there was nothing that led me to believe she would make it. The guys wore her bracelets and wrote her notes and said she would be their guest of honor at CMA Fest. I was so proud of my guys. They knew she needed something special,” Spalding said.

“Then I got a text that she’s cancer free, and not to forget that she wanted to go to CMA Fest. Well how could we forget that? We sent a car to pick her up, and she had a personal golf cart at the festival. She hung out on the Flatts’ bus and got up on stage.”

Spalding draws added determination from this personal connection. “I don’t want any kid to think they are dying. We can help do better, and this campaign is about that — more beds to care for more kids. I don’t want any other child to have to sit and eat lunch with Rascal Flatts because they are dying.”

Spalding reports that Burns has since remained cancer free.

Nashville’s musicians and music business executives have been generous to Children’s Hospital. Not many days go by between visits from performers. And many of the hospital’s most reliable benefactors work in the industry.

“I think all of us in the music business recognize how lucky we are. We get up every morning and go do something that we truly, truly love, and it makes people feel better. Music is a healer. And I know that in the music community, we all feel very, very blessed and we want to give back,” Spalding said.

When you hear the word “Vanderbilt,” Brooks says, “you think plenty of money.

“That’s what pops in most people’s minds. They don’t realize that Vanderbilt is a non-profit, and we really need help and funding. Like me, again, most people in the music business who’ve gone in there, we’ve taken ownership of this hospital.

“We realize it’s not someone else’s hospital, it’s not a bunch of rich people who own a hospital and are making money with it. It is a regional hospital that serves so many communities, and so many underprivileged communities and families that walk in the front door without a clue other than a child in their arms, not knowing where else to turn.”

To donate, visit the Children’s Hospital website or call 615-322-7450 or 800-824-6055.