We had the pleasure to catch up with John Beltzer, founder of the Songs of Love Foundation based in NYC. This unique non-profit organization creates uplifting, personalized songs for children and teens struggling with a life-threatening illness or lifetime disability–free of charge. Each “song of love” is professionally produced with lyrics containing the child’s name and references to all of his or her favorite activities, things, people, and pets. Songs are written and performed in the musical style that each child likes best (pop, r&b, rap, rock, alternative, etc.), by a variety of talented professionals.
Since 1996 the Songs of Love Foundation has reached out to over 33,000 children in over 500 hospitals and health care facilities in all 50 states. The songs have often been played to alleviate pain and trauma during painful and scary hospital treatments. The song recipients have played their “songs of love” in all kinds of situations and settings such as car trips to the hospital, show and tell at school, for family and friends in person or on the phone, and even for the doctors and nurses. The children have their “songs of love” always available to them.
John, tell us a little about your background – are you a musician?
I started out as a drummer in a top 40 cover band with my fraternal twin brother Julio as lead singer and guitar player. I eventually taught myself the guitar and piano and soon started writing songs with my brother.
There’s usually a moment when a new idea hits us. Do you recall the circumstances or moment that inspired you to start the foundation?
In January of 1996, I was walking down the street in my Forest Hills, Queens neighborhood when I had a sudden epiphany to start an organization that would create personalized songs for seriously ill kids.
I called it the Songs of Love Foundation, named after a song called “Songs of Love” that Julio wrote just 2 months before he died on April 12, 1984 [Julio Beltzer was John’s twin brother. He took his own life due to severe depression] .
What is your favorite part about running the Songs of Love Foundation?
I get to do what I love doing and at the same time bring smiles to thousands of children each year. Songwriting is my passion and I’m very happy and lucky that I didn’t need to abandon what I love doing.
The foundation is now 23 years old. I’m sure there’s lots of great moments and stories to share! Can you share any with us?
I remember visiting a bedridden child in a hospital who was battling a brain tumor and could not speak or move. I brought along her “song of love” to play over speakers she had in her room, and after the song ended, she used whatever strength she had to raise her arm and to thank me for playing her song. It was a very emotional moment for me.
Who does the foundation work closely with?
The Songs of Love Foundation has worked with over 300 children’s hospitals all over the country that have sent us referrals of kids who could benefit from our Medicine of Music.
We also partner with Give Kids the World, a 70 acre free vacation resort near Orlando for kids who are critically ill and are there to experience Disney Attractions as part of their Make-A-Wish. We have an onsite rep who helps families fill out our song request forms via our Songs of Love Foundation mobile app.
Where can someone go to request a custom song for a child?
Songs can be requested at songsoflove.org/request
How can a songwriter learn more and get involved?
Songwriters can visit songsoflove.org to learn more or simply give us a call at 800-960-SONG. We are happy that we are able to provide a small stipend for each song created.
What’s next for the foundation?
We plan to help 3,000 children in 2019 and 4,000 kids in 2020. We are always in need of more singer/songwriters who can deliver songs in all styles.
“Songs of Love is such an invaluable gift for our children and families that counteracts and comforts any of the fear, anger or grief that an illness or injury brings. The healing power of music is huge, but the power of feeling validated, of being honored, of being important enough to have a song that is entirely all about YOU, gives our patients a sense of belonging in this world, a sense of hope, a renewed purpose and determination to LIVE.”
– Siri Bream, a certified Child Life Specialist from the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, VA.
Here is a video of Elayna listening to her “song of love” for the first time: