With tears and laughter, patients and parents at Shriners Hospital for Children in Shreveport received 20 acoustic guitars from legendary rock guitarist James Burton.
With hospital administrators, some of his relatives and members of the James Burton Foundation, Burton gave the gift of music to the orthopedic hospital that is the flagship of Shriners Hospitals for Children. The gift is a continuation of presentations of guitars that have put at least 600 instruments in the hands of Caddo students so far.
“This is something that’s going to be here forever,” said Burton, a guitarist since the 1950s and someone whose name can be mentioned in the same breath as the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richard and the Who’s Pete Townsend. “And when I’m gone, these young kids are going to carry on my legacy in music.”
Burton said the gift to a hospital that treats children is more than appropriate.
“Even though a child can’t play an instrument, it’s something they love,” said Burton, who just returned from Austria to take part in the culmination of the project begun with the hospital months ago by his wife, Louise, and son Jeff. “When they hear music, it does something to the mind and the body. It’s great therapy.”
Jeff Burton said neither the work of his father’s foundation or that of the Shriners Hospital would be possible without the support of the community, which could do more if people offered the cost of the night out on the town, even once, to nonprofits trying to accomplish good.
“We think every child should have the opportunity to have an instrument,” he said, adding that Thursday’s move was just a first step. “We want to move outside Shreveport and work with Shriners across the United States. That’s our next goal.”
Hospital administrator Kim Green was pleased with the day’s events. “As a struggling guitarist myself, I’m very excited about having the opportunity for the children here to be participants in music therapy and have the enjoyment and excitement that all of us get from participating in playing and enjoying music.”
Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover had planned to attend. In fact, the presentation was scheduled to accommodate his schedule. But a last-minute meeting prevented him from attending. He was represented by spokeswoman Gwen Campbell and by Arlena Acree, a former mayoral opponent and now head of the city’s film office.
At least one young patient from Honduras was starry-eyed at holding a guitar autographed by Burton and to fret chords with him standing over her shoulder.
“I would really like to learn a song from Mr. James,” said 14-year-old fan Roxanne Gonzales, who has been visiting the hospital annually for surgeries on and braces for her legs since 1996.
Gonzales and her mom, Fatima Gonzales, both familiar with Burton through his work with the late Elvis Presley, appreciated the gift of the music. Roxanne Gonzales has played guitar the past four years and plans to continue, though performing on stage isn’t her dream.
“I would like to become a doctor and to work here,” the teen said, her serious, thoughtful face occasionally radiated by smiles. “The Shriners do a great job here, and I would like to someday help continue it.”
James Burton was touched by her wish for a lesson and said he likely would return to the hospital when the youngsters have had an opportunity to learn to play a bit. “We’ll play a little bit and have them play for us.