February 9, 2001

Teen’s song sparks Music Row interest

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All smiles. John Rich, left, and Big Kenny have recorded “Rescue Me,” an inspiring song written by cancer patient Katie Darnell. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Teen’s song sparks Music Row interest

Much like the butterfly that she adores so much, Katie Darnell has undergone a metamorphosis, which has brought out some incredible talents she never knew she had. Songwriting is one of those talents, and she has recently written a hit song that has been recorded by country music singer John Rich.

The song, “Rescue Me,” has become an instant hit locally, and promises to move up the charts once it is released nationally. Nashville radio stations have reported getting numerous requests for the song and are playing it on average every 90 minutes.

She wrote the song from her heart as a way of helping to cope with her battle over cancer. Diagnosed six years ago, the 17-year-old Darnell has seen herself transform from a shy, self-absorbed teen-ager who would do anything to fit into the crowd, into an outgoing, vibrant young woman who cares more for others.

The cancer, which started as a tumor in her brain, has been in remission three times. The constant treatments of radiation and/or chemotherapy have left Darnell very sick.

“I just don’t know that person anymore,” Darnell said recently from her hospital bed at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. “I was shy and had very low self-esteem. I would do anything to fit into a crowd. But God rescued me and Christianity has taken on a whole new meaning.”

Legally blind, Darnell consistently had problems in her Kentucky school. Her blindness, along with the loss of her hair, made other children uncomfortable. Darnell said that while she was comfortable, other children had difficulty in dealing with her disabilities. The children weren’t the only ones. A teacher who had volunteered to teach Darnell in a homebound school program soon stopped coming, and it was this action that led to the song.

“It really hurt my feelings,” she explained. “I thought this teacher really cared about me. But I guess it got to be too much for her. She told me that she just couldn’t handle the stress, but I know that she was tutoring other kids.”

Feeling neglected and hurt, Darnell turned to the one thing she knew – putting words on paper. Writing is nothing new for her. She’s written over 35 poems and has written a book of poetry, “On Butterfly Wings.” This time, she sat at the piano and retreated into her faith.

“I just started getting these words,” she said. “And those words poured on that paper like a glass of water.”

Those words formed the song, “Rescue Me.”

Darnell knew she had written some powerful stuff. She sang the song at church and everyone loved it. She offered it to a Christian music group, but they had little interest in the song.

And then she met John Rich and Big Kenny.

John Rich and “Big” Kenny Alphin were visiting Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital just before Christmas. They had come as part of a group of songwriters and performers to sing Christmas carols for the children. After the performance, they went to visit children who could not make it to see the performance.

Rich is a recording artist with BNA Records and was formerly with the group Lonestar. Big Kenny is with a local rock band, luvjOi.

“We walked into the room and asked Katie if we could sing for her,” Rich said. “She said sure, but she wanted to sing to us first. She sang her song and we were blown away by the craftsmanship. It is so well written. The melody is just incredible.”

It wasn’t long before the two were visiting Darnell again, this time to ask for permission to record her song.

“We wanted to record it, just so she’d have a copy,” Rich said.

Lisa Harless, a friend of John Rich, dropped a copy of the CD to Gerry House on WSIX and to Brad Schmidt with the Tennessean. After House played the song on his morning show, the phone lines lit up.

That recording session, made with 30 hours of studio time donated by Sony/Tree Studios, along with some of Nashville’s top musicians and back-up singers, turned her song into an instant hit.

“The song is very inspirational,” said Altman. “Katie is a peacock and the whole world needs to see her beautiful feathers.”

Rich said the words she wrote were so powerful that he wants the entire world to hear her song.

“Kids everywhere need to hear this song,” he said. “It could change their lives.”

Rich softly begins to sing the words as Darnell hums along, “I love thee rescue me, shine your light, lead me home. Lord all I need is your love, rescue me.”