This chorus has played an influential role by healing and boosting the emotions of children and teens with chronic and terminal diseases. One man instills in their hearts hopeful visions of tomorrow. His name is John Beltzer, a Forest Hills resident who founded the Songs of Love Foundation in 1996.
As of October 20, 23,333 ill children spanning age one to 21 have received their Song of Love, which is an original composition created by diverse songwriters and singers, commissioned by Songs of Love.
Most often, brochures are mailed to hospitals nationally, and a child’s parents completes a profile sheet with their child’s name and information on their hobbies, special interests, pets, friends, and family members. Then the child receives the gift of a personalized song in their favorite genre, such as pop, kids, R&B, rock, alternative, rap, classical, or jazz.
Songs of Love is located at 107-40 Queens Boulevard, and consists of three full-time staff members who work with 40 songwriters nationally. To date, songs have been composed in at least 30 languages, so every culture can be included.
As a result of Songs of Love’s great success locally and nationally, Beltzer expanded his operation to Brazil, where 200 children have received their Song of Love.
A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Beltzer settled in Brooklyn at age 8, and by age 15 he moved to Forest Hills. He convinced his father to buy him a drum set, and taught himself how to play the drums, followed by piano and guitar. His fraternal twin brother Julio played guitar.
They composed songs together and formed a top 40 band called Cameon. In 1984, two months before Julio died at age 24, he composed a song called “Songs of Love.” In January 1996, after Beltzer came off a record deal which did not materialize, he experienced “an epiphany to create a national non-profit organization,” which he named “Songs of Love” in his brother’s memory.
Songs of Love inspires children struggling with chronic diseases, as well as physical disabilities.
“We use songs as tools of healing on a mass scale,” said Beltzer, who estimated that 70 percent of children who received their Song of Love are alive today. If a child dies, their song is played at their funeral. “This keeps the beauty and spirit of the child alive forever in song,” he added.
Throughout history, music has proven to be therapeutic. Songs of Love has received thousands of letters of gratitude.
“A typical story involves a child undergoing chemotherapy and hearing their song during the treatment,” Beltzer explained. “This helps alleviate their pain, fear, and trauma, and builds self-esteem. When you hear a song you like, it promotes feelings of wellness, and the brain releases feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins. Parents tried to share many things with their child, but nothing worked. Only a ‘Song of Love’ made them smile.”
A case in point is 12 year-old Makayla Redmon of Arverne, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in January 2012, and treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Her story is a beacon of hope.
“I got my Songs of Love disc during chemo in March 2012, and each time I listened to it, I felt happier and better,” she said. “It made me feel like people actually cared. On all the long trips to and from the hospital, my family and I would sing along. The song was a rap, and I called it ‘Makayla's Song.’ It was sung by a church choir in Texas.”
Redmon explained how she played it for her family in California and North Carolina and her friends. Her mother posted it on Facebook. She skyped with her Grandma Sherry, Aunt Aimee, and cousin and best friend Hailee. At Long Island Jewish Hospital, she also shared it with her social worker Ingrid, her doctor Sandra Cohen, P.A., her child life specialist Faye Brick, and nurses in P.A.C.T 4, where she received her treatment. Makayla also starred in a Songs of Love commercial.
On October 22nd, Redmon received her PET and CAT Scan to determine if she has fully recovered. With utmost gratitude, she stated, “I hope that any kids that Songs of Love helps after me gets at least half the enjoyment that I did.”
Songs of Love’s success is evident in media coverage including EXTRA, CBS News, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Dateline, NBC News NY, ABC World News, BBC, CBS Early Show, Hallmark Heroes with Regis Philbin, NY Times, People magazine, and USA Today.
In 2001, Britney Spears attended a special performance at her Massachusetts camp, where her campers wrote, recorded, and performed a Song of Love for a sick child. Songs of Love engaged thousands of Black Eyed Peas fans at their concert to mark the 10,000th recording.
Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath and 15,000 Mets fans recorded the 12,000th song at Shea Stadium. For their 20,000th song, Jason Mraz recorded “Love Is All Around.” Other celebrities included Billy Joel, Nancy Sinatra, and Jamie Lynn-Sigler.
“It would be fantastic to have American Idol’s Adam Lambert work with Songs of Love,” said Beltzer, referring to Lambert’s multi-octave range, charismatic performances, and congenial nature. “His stardom would bring greater awareness and funding for our charity to help more children.”
Lambert has a history of fundraising for charitable causes such as classroom supplies through DonorsChoose.org, Red Cross, The Trevor Project, and Charity:Water.
Beltzer explained his vision for the future. “We want our organization to grow, so we can reach out to as many children as we can, to help alleviate their stress, fear, and pain through our medicine of music. Now we are producing songs for 1,000 children annually, but before the economy crashed, we were helping 3,000 children annually.”
In spring 2013, Beltzer envisions turning Forest Hills’ MacDonald Park into a live recording studio through their program, “Raising Funds, Raising Voices.”
“We would teach our audience a song over a pre-existing track and record their voices,” he explained. “I would like to invite all businesses, politicians, and the public, since it would be wonderful to have the whole community behind our cause. Let’s cover Forest Hills with a blanket of healing melodies.”
On October 30, the Jackie Greene Band Charity Concert Series will be at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ. To purchase tickets for this event and to donate to help a sick child, visit www.songsoflove.org. The public can also call 1-800-960-SONG or “like” their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/SongsOfLove