Blue Star Connection helps heal with music

Anna Winkel
Special to the Sky-Hi News
Aaron, a 10-year-old who just received a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia, plays his electric guitar in his hospital room in Denver.
Submitted by John Catt |

When Blue Star Connection founder John Catt starts talking about his passions, there is no stopping him. Topping his list of passions: helping children and blues music.

“This is something that I’ve always said and felt: blues music and blues musicians and blues fans could be the solution,” he said. “Nothing is more important than doing this for these kids and their families.”

Likewise, there is no stopping Blue Star Connection, his locally-based nonprofit organization that connects young cancer patients and other youngsters to blues music. Raising money through concerts, events, auctions, donations and sponsorships, Blue Star Connection gifts musical instruments to youngsters and exposes them to live music and the possibilities music can bring to their lives.

“These kids go through these illnesses and these trying times with a lot of pent-up emotion,” Catt said. “And even when they’re cured, they come out ready to emote, ready to express themselves. We’re not just finding kids in hospitals; we’re finding kids in homeless shelters, in orphanages—all sorts of troubled kids.”

“Every hospital in America should have this. Every music therapy department in America should have this. We have to do it because we are the only ones who are doing it.”
John Catt
Founder of Blue Star Connection

Aaron is one of the kids who found Blue Star Connection. A 10-year-old from Cortez, Colo., Aaron was flown via flight-for-life to Denver Children’s Hospital after he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in Jan. 2014.

“The Blue Star program has made Aaron’s road — his journey with this — so much better. He plays his guitar and he serenades the nurses at his hospital,” said his mother, Carla Nuvy. “We are so grateful that we got plugged in with this program.”

Aaron recently received a vital bone marrow transplant, but his immune system is suppressed so he and his family will be displaced until November. Even when he returns home to Cortez, he will remain isolated from his peers.

“He can’t go back to school or anything for two years,” said Nuvy. “Playing the instrument makes all the difference. It’s something that is really going to help him get through the situation. It’s something that he has control over because he can pick up and start playing.”

Aaron is one of more than 400 children who has received an instrument from Blues Star Connection — an instrument to keep, forever, no strings attached. The organization also has donated entire sets of musical instruments and music therapy tools to 34 children’s hospitals across the country, including Peyton Manning’s hospital in Indianapolis. Currently they have a team at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, and another in Israel, establishing Blue Star Connection internationally.

Mary Brieschke, MT-BC, is a music therapist at Chris Evert Children’s Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. She met Catt when she was an intern in Chicago.

“He told me, ‘Please call me whenever you need anything in the future.’ When I got my position in Florida, one of the first things I did was reach out to him.”

That was in February of this year, and by mid-March, her music therapy department started receiving shipments of ukuleles, drums, and keyboards. More shipments followed.

“He asked what our wish list was and pretty much sent everything,” she said.

“Everything” ranges from small items like shakers and maracas to major gifts like two bass guitars — one for a patient and one for his father — so they can learn to play together.

“It’s such a blessing to have someone like John to just start it up,” Brieschke said.

That sentiment is echoed by everyone involved with Blue Star Connection. The organization’s name originates from its goal of connecting kids (the stars) with blues music, but in many ways, it is an apt description of Catt himself.

“There is such a thing in human beings as connectors. I am a connector. I know that. I continue to do that. I have connected a lot of people with opportunity,” Catt said. “It comes with a lot of responsibility as well.”

“It’s amazing to work with him. He’s so inspirational; it’s almost beyond words. He would do anything for anybody. He puts Blue Star above self,” said Maria Chavez, president of the Grand County Blues Society, Blue Star’s local partner.

Catt had two surprises after starting Blue Star Connection in 2005.

The first was how quickly it grew.

“It kind of grew its own wings,” he said. “The kids started telling other kids. Even now, it’s mostly by word of mouth.”

The second was that no one else was already doing it.

“This is pressing. When we don’t do this for a kid, they are not getting this. When we do this for a kid like Aaron, who just got a bone marrow transplant and now he is rockin’ out in there… Every hospital in America should have this. Every music therapy department in America should have this. We have to do it because we are the only ones who are doing it. I can’t believe that.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

The Sky-Hi News strives to deliver powerful stories that spark emotion and focus on the place we live.

Over the past year, contributions from readers like you helped to fund some of our most important reporting, including coverage of the East Troublesome Fire.

If you value local journalism, consider making a contribution to our newsroom in support of the work we do.