Q&A: Michele Abrams

Michele Abrams lost both her parents to cancer. When she was in her 20s, her father was diagnosed with leukemia. Ten days after his first chemotherapy treatment, he was gone. When her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive bladder cancer about 20 years later, she prepared for the worst. In the darkest hours — when her mother was on hospice and unable to communicate — Abrams kept the music playing. She had a musical bond with her mother ever since she was a child. The songs that rang out in those final days — everything from jazz classics by Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra to pop hits by George Michael — solidified their bind until the end. Confronting cancer with music is still a big part of Abrams’ life. The Kenmore resident is a veteran concert producer. About six years ago, she founded In Concert for Cancer, a fundraising event for immunotherapy treatment and research at Seattle Children’s Hospital. But the event has always been more than a money driver. For Abrams, it’s about bringing hope to those affected by cancer through the beauty of a melody.


A Longtime Music Lover 

I’m from Chicago, and I grew up on all the great Motown music. I think that was an influence for me — listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson — all the great artists of that era. I knew in my heart at a really early age that music was the one thing that always brought me the most joy. It always made me happy.

When Cancer Hits Home 

You never think you’re going to hear you have a family member diagnosed with cancer. You read a lot about it, you hear a lot about it, you know how prevalent it is, but you don’t ever think it’s going to happen to you.

On Losing her Father

My daddy was 55 when I was born. Losing him at age 26 was tough. I felt like I didn’t have him as long as I wanted, but I was thankful for the time I did share with my father.

Playing Music in Hospice 

(My mother) asked me to keep the music playing in hospice 24/7 because she said it soothed her soul. And looking at that now, I can’t tell you how many people have shared with me, since launching In Concert for Cancer, how music has played a vital role in their journey.

The Sense of Hearing 

They say that your hearing is the last to go, your last sense to go. So, not only did I continue to play the music, but I spoke to her every day.

Finding Gratitude 

It wasn’t easy what she went through, but there are people who suffer far worse, and I try to err on the side of gratitude for what we do have — not for what’s missing, not for what could be different.

Hope Comes from Grief

I was mourning, and I was trying to figure out — what do I want to do with my life? (I was) looking up at these cliffs on the northern shore of Kauai, and I thought to myself, “Why not do a concert for cancer to raise awareness and funding?” The minute I thought of that, it started to rain. For me, it was like an affirmation or a sign. Maybe it was my mom saying, “Yeah! You should do that!”

Funding Research 

We fund pediatric oncology. Immunotherapy is a game changer in saving lives for both children and adults alike. Seattle Children’s is (the organization) we’ve aligned with because they’re very innovative in their research.

Judith Hill Touched by Cancer 

She grew up in a musical family. When Judith’s mother was going through (cancer), Judith wrote a song called “Cry, Cry, Cry,” and she sang it for her mother, and her mother said, “Oh you must record that.” It became one of the hits on her debut record in 2015, which was produced by Prince. (Judith’s mother and father will both perform with her onstage at this year’s concert.)

Music as Treatment 

There’s evidence-based science that shows what music does to the human body. (It makes people) relaxed, more hopeful, more upbeat. There’s a reason there’s music therapy in hospitals. Music is a definite force.

The Purpose of the Concert 

To celebrate life.

In Concert for Cancer with singer Judith Hill will be at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 at Kirkland Performance Center. Learn more at inconcertforcancer.com.

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is the managing editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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