A close connection with Alabama

Published 9:14 pm Wednesday, November 6, 2013

By Frank Roberts

Alabama, one of the hottest groups of the last decade, made lasting friends of some young Suffolkians. Here is the story:

Like many other artists, Alabama always had a “meet ‘n’ greet” backstage, but with a difference. Behind the scenes at the Hampton Coliseum, the look was straight out of Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, and each year I brought someone with me who deserved special attention. Sincerity was the key.

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One of their hits prompted me to bring a 9-year-old Suffolk girl who had been in a coma for about two weeks. One day, the family visited her at Louise Obici Memorial Hospital, armed with a cassette player and a favorite Alabama song that tells about the “Angels Among Us.” On that day, her momma played it and, for the first time in a long time, the youngster sat up and took notice, and her coma had come to an end. Happy smiles followed.

Some folks put the event into the miracle category. I wrote a story about it, of course, and it got nationwide attention. Alabama took the inspiring event a step further, inviting the youngster, her parents and sister, my wife and myself to be their guests at their theater in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The show was, as usual, playing to a full house at the Alabama Theater. When the foursome got to that special song, they invited the girl onstage, asking her to sing along with them. It was a time of unadulterated inspiration.

Then there was Madison Short, whose life was spent in a wheelchair. I don’t remember what put her there, but I do remember she seldom talked to anyone outside the family.

Usually, Randy Owen, Alabama’s gregarious lead singer, was the one who did most of the talking during the children’s backstage visits, but, for some reason, Madison reached out to his cousin, bass guitarist Teddy Gentry.

All of them are softies, but you could see Gentry choking up, realizing he was chosen as a special friend. After a few moments he left the room, saying he would be right back.

Teddy returned with a teddy bear. He gave her the gift and then she did something she had not done in a long time — stretched out her arms and gave a hug.

One year I brought a little boy who was in rough shape. His dad, if I remember correctly, was a Chamber of Commerce director. I also brought him to meet Jerry Reed, who treated him with love and respect.

Every year, there was someone, and that went on for a dozen years. They got to calling me Dr. Roberts.

These days, Owen is concentrating on singing gospel — quite appropriate, I’d say.

Here’s something to think about following the election. In 1927, Charles King was elected president of Liberia with more than 240,000 votes — pretty good for a country that had only 15,000 registered voters. The Guinness Book of World Records rightfully dubbed that so-called election the most fraudulent one in world history.

Well, maybe the second-most fraudulent. In the Iraqi election of 2002 Saddam Hussein received 11 million votes, without a single vote against him.

Elephants and donkeys — nah, forget it.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.