At a time when our world sorely needs some feel-good news, we are so thrilled to share a heartwarming story that came to us initially when Lee and Sri discovered a YouTube video (link) of Mary Elizabeth Long-Simpson and her dad, William Long, playing “You Are My Sunshine” together. This precious video absolutely captured our hearts and opened us to a bigger story that beautifully illuminates the healing power of music…and love.
As daughter Mary Elizabeth puts it, most up-and-coming artists don’t move into a nursing home to begin their music careers, but that’s what her now 84-year old father did around five years ago. Though William hid his talents until he came to the nursing home, he has actually been playing the harmonica since he was fourteen years old. (In fact, when Mary Elizabeth started buying him harmonicas for his birthday or Christmas, her dad would tell her what key he needed and he’d always say, “...and make sure it’s a Lee Oskar!”)
Despite suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and never publicly performed until he became a resident of the nursing home, he has since gained notoriety as “the harmonica man,” playing for fellow residents along with a guitar player, Joe, who works at the facility and would play with him on his breaks.
Recently, William recorded his first album, “Unlocked and Loaded” at this facility, which features him playing Country and Gospel standards. All proceeds from the sale of this album go to benefit Music and Memory, which is an incredible nonprofit organization that helps Mary Elizabeth work therapeutically with her father to help him sustain his cognition and memory through music.
And, as it is so often the case in the world of music, one good thing sparks another. As Mary Elizabeth describes, “Dad and Joe would play concerts for the residents, and they started winning talent shows! So, I would sit there and hand dad the correct harmonica, and one day I thought, ‘I want to play music with my dad too,’ so I taught myself how to play the guitar (quickly)! It sure made our visits much more enjoyable for everyone! Music IS medicine!”
And the good news story continues when Sri reached out to Mary Elizabeth after she and Lee saw the video, to let her know how much they loved it. Lee and Sri felt moved to send them a special gift, including t-shirts, stickers and a handwritten note from Lee, which Mary Elizabeth has framed and will take to her dad as soon as visitors are allowed again. We were also delighted to send Mary Elizabeth her very first harmonica after hearing that she had just learned to play guitar, and were so thrilled to find out that she recently took her first harmonica lesson from Lee Oskar Harmonicas Featured Teacher Steve Lockwood— on her dad’s 84th birthday, to top it off! We love stories like this that demonstrate how music is the best medicine of all.