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Memphis goes country to help St. Jude

Downtown Memphis will look more like Nashville this weekend as more than 30 Music City artists join hundreds of industry insiders and country radio executives at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a three-day radiothon seminar.

Organized by Randy Owen, lead singer of the Grammy-winning group Alabama, musicians scheduled to appear at St. Jude this weekend include “American Idol” season nine contestant Casey James, pop artist Josh Kelley, and members of top bluegrass band the Grascals as well as independent country recording artist Darren Warren, who was himself a patient of St. Jude more than a dozen years ago.

The coterie of hitmakers will serve as ambassadors to more than 500 radio representatives from across the country who will be participating in the hospital’s annual Country Cares for St. Jude Kids radiothon.

“It’s been incredible to see country radio and the country music industry embrace this program the way it has,” said Owen, who started Country Cares in 1989. “St. Jude has held a special place in my heart since I met Danny (Thomas) many years ago, and it’s been really great to see how much progress has been made with cancer research since,” he said by e-mail.

Closed-to-the-public, the seminar kicks off today with Owen conducting a meet-and-greet with St. Jude patients. On Friday artists and radio personnel will tour the hospital. Saturday, the radio representatives will meet a St. Jude family at a group breakfast before holding seminar sessions to discuss strategies for the radiothons, which run in individual markets between January and April.

The seminar concludes Saturday night with a dinner featuring live entertainment by top Nashville singer-songwriters. Though St. Jude declines to reveal the names of performers at the dinner for security reasons, two years ago country superstar Keith Urban surprised the audience by showing up.

Owen was inspired to start Country Cares after meeting St. Jude founder Danny Thomas. In the 23 years since, the series of two-day telethons hosted by more than 200 country music stations nationwide are credited with raising more than $380 million for the Memphis-based nonprofit hospital.

“We are fortunate to live and work here and see the impact that St. Jude has on children’s lives every day,” said Richard Shadyac Jr., CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising organization of St. Jude. “The Country Cares for St. Jude Kids radio seminar gives us the opportunity to share that experience.”

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