Blues concert will lift spirits

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 04, 2014 08:38 am

Calgary blues singer Donald Ray Johnson will perform at a fundraising event for the High River Hospital’s Community Cancer Centre at the Heritage Inn Hotel in High River on June 7.
Calgary blues singer Donald Ray Johnson will perform at a fundraising event for the High River Hospital’s Community Cancer Centre at the Heritage Inn Hotel in High River on June 7.
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A Calgary musician is singing the blues for a fundraiser that aims to give cancer patients a little comfort.

Grammy award-winning international recording artist Donald Ray Johnson is lending his soulful voice to help raise money to expand and enhance the Community Cancer Centre in the High River Hospital in a fundraiser dinner and dance at High River’s Heritage Inn on June 7. Proceeds will support the High River District Health Foundation’s Cancer Care… Close to Home campaign, which will provide more privacy for patients and improve the 18-year-old cancer centre.

“We want to see as many people as we can make it out here and we promise it’s going to be a good time,” said Johnson. “It’s going to be a good show and you’ll be glad you came. We are just glad to be there to help support it.”

The event is organized by Better Days Entertainment owner Neil Pearson, who thought residents in the area deserve a good time after so many suffered the harsh impact of the 2013 flood that devastated the community almost a year ago. Pearson started his company this year to provide various forms of entertainment to the region.

“I thought it might be a good opportunity to bring something to the town to bring people together,” he said. “I think people are tapped out emotionally and need a little more of a release.”

Pearson wanted to do what he could to help out because cancer touches so many people. He lost his grandfather to the deadly disease, and his wife lost both her parents to cancer.

“This goes toward something that is in the community and something you can see where the funds are going,” he said.

The High River District Health Foundation began raising money to improve the cancer centre a year ago, said Cathy Couey, the foundation’s development officer. It partnered with the Rotary Club of High River with each setting a goal to raise $500,000.

Couey said the foundation surpassed $250,000 and hopes to see the $1 million raised by the end of this year. She said Alberta Health Services is conducting a needs assessment to ensure the space in the centre is adequate for five to 10 years down the road.

“It just allows patients when they are having treatment to have a little more space and staff to have a little more efficient area to be working in,” she said. “For people having treatment there is nowhere for privacy.”

Couey said the number of patient visits doubled at the cancer centre from an average of 60 in September 2012 to 120-140 in recent months.

A donation of a few thousand dollars from a fundraiser like Pearson’s can make a big difference to the facility, she said.

“It could mean a treatment chair, IV pump or a work station set up between the treatment chairs,” she said.

“It means we are one step closer to our ultimate goal of raising $1 million between ourselves and the High River Rotary Club.”

The fundraiser wouldn’t be complete without entertainment. That is where Johnson comes in.

The singer/songwriter grew up in Texas, developed his musical career in San Diego and Los Angeles and spent the last 24 years in Calgary.

“Music, I’ve just always loved it,” he said. “It’s just a part of me.”

The five-time Carolina Beach Music Award winner began singing in churches and family functions before beginning his professional career at the age of 14 playing with blues piano legend Nat Dove. He’s since performed with various U.S. blues, jazz and rhythm and blues artists.

It was during his career with the disco band A Taste of Honey when Johnson won the Grammy in 1979.

Despite his experience in various genres of music, the blues kept calling to him.

“I always come back to the truth - that’s the blues,” he said. “One thing about the blues, you have to admit it, everybody has them at one time or another.”

Johnson said although his band plays the blues, they keep it upbeat.

“We want to get people moving and just have a good time,” he said. “We like to see them dance.”

Tickets cost $100 and can be purchased by calling 403-554-1759 or going to

Tickets can be purchased at the door for the show only at 8:30 p.m.


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