When St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital came calling, Stanley Pierce didn’t hesitate. His son, Craig, had died from leukemia years before at age 10 after receiving treatment from the hospital known for its cancer research and for never sending a bill to families of patients it treats.
20th annual St. Jude Benefit Singing
Where: Hopewell Baptist Church, 5086 Poplar Springs Road, Gainesville
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4
How much: Free
More info: 770-540-9085
The hospital asked if he’d be interested in playing host to a fundraiser. He said he’d “give it a shot,” and 20 years later, that fundraiser has turned into a free gospel singing benefit concert that has raised $480,000. This year’s concert is set for 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4 at Hopewell Baptist Church in Gainesville.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” said Pierce, a Gainesville resident. “Of course, my son has been passed away a long time, but we realize that what we do is in his memory. But like I tell everybody, we do it to help the kids that are there now, too, that are being treated. That’s the most important thing right now is to get as much money to them as we can.”
The concert will feature such artists as Karen Peck and New River, a five-time Grammy Awards nominated and six-time Dove Awards winning group, along with Poet Voices, The Whisnants and Georgia. Pierce said they’re some of the best bands around doing something for a good cause.
“It’s always a free concert,” Pierce said. “We don’t charge anything to get in ... so it doesn’t rule out anybody from coming, whether they have a lot of money or they don’t have hardly any money. We want the person that puts in a pocket full of change to feel like they’ve supported just as much as the person who puts in a $1,000 check.”
Pierce has been performing gospel music since 1971 and knows people from each group. He spent 32 years as the music director at Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church and is now a commercial truck driving instructor at Lanier Technical College. But that doesn’t stop him from hosting the benefit concert.
“We sent in $30,000 last year, so we haven’t had a year that we’ve sent in less than $20,000 in a long time,” Pierce said. “So we’re expecting to go over the half-million-dollar mark this year.”
All the money is raised to “keep the memory” of Pierce’s son alive. But he said there’s a broader goal, too.
“My biggest thing is to educate the people in this area, which I think I’ve done a fairly good job, but there’s still a lot of folks that don’t know about St. Jude,” Pierce said. “My mission, I guess, is to educate as many people as I can and tell them about the good things St. Jude does.”
Pierce said he expects to fill the church, which holds 1,000 guests. He even has overflow rooms with TVs in case more people show up. He said the concert is a “spiritual experience” and some people have even made spiritual decisions while attending. That’s the atmosphere Pierce wants to create.
“It’s a worship service,” Pierce said. “We don’t make it a sad event. I don’t look at my son’s life as a sad thing. I look at it as a wonderful time that we had in the 10 years he was here. So when we have the concert at night, from start to finish, I don’t make it anything sad. It’s a good time.”