Jay Allen: Singing ‘Blank Stares’ for Mother With Alzheimer’s Is ‘Why God Put Me on This Earth’
Jay Allen made headlines all over the country when he went viral singing a very important song for his mother with Alzheimer's in July, and he wants to bring that song's message of hope to as many people as possible.
Allen wrote a song for his mother titled "Blank Stares," and a live performance of the powerful song went viral and received more than 1.3 million views after a fan captured live video of Allen performing it to his mom onstage in his home state of Iowa and posted it to Facebook.
Allen's mom, Sherry Rich, is 54, and she has early onset Alzheimer's. She was a big influence on his decision to pursue a country music career; she played the music of George Strait and John Michael Montgomery around the house when he was growing up, and she encouraged him to move to Nashville five years ago and take his shot.
The 32-year-old singer tells People magazine that when his parents visited him in Nashville for Thanksgiving two years ago, his mother looked at him and for the first time, she didn't know who he was.
He and his father decided to take his mom out to a club in Nashville, and he relates that as soon as she heard the music, she started smiling and tapping her foot.
“We started dancing, the music’s blaring and she grabbed me and held me real tight — right in the middle of us dancing — and she took a deep breath,” the singer says. “She pulled me real close. She whispered in my ear. She said, ‘Oh Jay. I missed you. I love you so much. I miss you son.’ She was like my momma. She was back for a second and I about lost it.”
That incident inspired Allen to conceptualize a song about Alzheimer's, but he admits he was intimidated at first.
“My faith is everything and I was just like, ‘Man. God is talking to me,'” Allen reflects. “I just felt like he was saying, ‘Buddy, I gave you a voice. I gave you the talent to write songs, so write a song for your momma.’ It kept hitting me wave after wave like, ‘Write a song that’ll fight against Alzheimer’s.'”
The "Blank Stare" lyrics share Allen's own pain at helplessly watching his mother slip away, but they also convey a sense of hope that she's still in there somewhere.
"If I could only seal the cracks you’re slipping through / Wish I didn’t feel so helpless when it comes to helping you hold on / So I keep holding on / To every little memory made of you and me / Every little glimpse of who you used to be / I know you’re still in there / Deep down somewhere I swear I still see you / Between the blank stares," he sings in the chorus.
He co-wrote the song with Jason Nix, who also produced a raw, simple and effective track that caught the attention of the president of Sony Records, whose own father had died after battling Alzheimer's. They decided to promote the song and donate the proceeds to Abe’s Garden, an Alzheimer’s and memory care center in Nashville.
He's since played Alzheimer's events all over the country, raising $20 million for Abe's Garden so far this year. Allen always sings the special song to his mom onstage when he plays in Iowa, and it was merely his latest rendition that sparked his viral fame.
His mom is now in the last stages of Alzheimer's, and that only serves to make him more determined to sing the song and help others as much as he can.
“This is my purpose — why God put me on the Earth," he tells People, adding, "I don’t ever expect a reaction. I wanna share the story. I know bringing her up there creates a moment and when people see it with their eyes, it’s a reality for them. I’m talking to myself the whole time in my head so I don’t cry. But I feel like it’s my job. I always told myself, ‘If I’m gonna be an artist and do this thing, I don’t wanna do it to be famous. I wanna have a purpose behind what I do.'”
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