In 2012, barely old enough to drive but already adept at the banjo, Michelle Canning decided to use her musical gift to raise money in memory of her grandfather, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2005.
“That first year, I didn’t know what to expect,” she recalled last week in Nashville, which is now her home. “I hoped I would raise a couple hundred dollars.” Instead, she was shocked to bring in more than $2,000.
More than $27,000 later, Michelle is returning to her New England home this weekend for the 8th Annual benefit, A Night On The Edge. The event takes place Saturday evening, March 23, at the Elks Lodge in Chelmsford, MA. Tickets are $15 ($7 for kids 12 and under).
She hopes to raise $6,500 to $7,000 this year, with the money going as it always does to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
In addition to live music, attendees can buy raffle tickets for more than 50 gift baskets and gift cards, mostly donated by local businesses. Baked goods will also be sold.
Michelle was 10 when Ken Canning Sr. died, old enough to have some memories to cling too. Most of those memories are pleasant, like sitting with Grandpa and examining his collection of rocks and minerals. But there are others, too, such as the time he couldn’t remember who she was. Her parents, Ken Sr.’s primary caregivers, and the kids became “you people.”
Her parents didn’t try to hide anything about Grandpa’s condition. “My parents were very transparent with us,” Michelle said. “They made sure to prepare us.”
One of the highlights of each year’s show comes when Michelle and her band play her song, It’ll Take Him Away. She performs it not only as a tribute to her paternal grandfather, but to relatives on her mom’s side who are also afflicted, and to friends and relatives of others in attendance. Photos of those men and women are flashed on a screen during the song. “By the end, there’s not a dry eye in the house,” she said.
Michelle said she hopes a cure for the memory-robbing disease is found during her lifetime, and she’s going to keep doing her part to help, using her music to help raise awareness and money to help the doctors and scientists studying the disease, and caregivers who can be overwhelmed by their duties.
Folks from the Boston area can buy tickets or find additional information at Michelle’s website (www.michellecanning.net). If you’re not from the area, you can still help. There’s a donate button on her site.