More than a year ago, 15-year-old Cassidy Huff was celebrating her birthday at Seattle Children’s on the eve of her 39th surgery. She was doing what makes her happiest – singing and playing her ukulele. She performed in front of a small crowd made up of her friends, family and medical team. One of the songs she sang was called “Halo,” a parody of Adele’s popular song “Hello,” and an ode to the metal device around her head that would soon be removed.
“When I’m playing I don’t think,” said Cassidy. “Everything around me disappears, and it’s just me. Music has always been my outlet. It tells a story and gives people an inside look into who I am.”
Today, Cassidy is preparing for another performance, this time for a much larger crowd. She’s working with Grammy-winning composer Mateo Messina on an original song for Messina’s 20th annual Seattle Children’s benefit concert called Epoch. She’ll be performing the song alongside the Northwest Symphony Orchestra in front of nearly 2,500 people at Benaroya Hall.
Telling her story through song
Cassidy’s story is complex. She uses her music to provide the world a window into her life, often including lyrics that speak of her extensive medical journey and the adversity she’s overcome.
She’s been a patient at Seattle Children’s for as long as she can remember. She underwent her first surgery when she was only 1 years old, and has, to date, undergone a total of 41 surgeries, mostly on her spine.
“Seattle Children’s is my second home,” said Cassidy. “I’ve never gone more than a year without having a surgery. I’ve never known anything else.”
Born with a rare genetic condition called Conradi Hunermann, Cassidy is blind in one eye, deaf in her left ear, and the right side of her body is three and a half inches shorter than her left side.
She doesn’t let those obstacles deter her from following her dreams. She was born to take center stage. Cassidy has wanted to be a professional singer since she was 8 years old. Her mother, Shannon LeBleu, remembers sitting her down at one point and having a difficult conversation with her.
“She told me she had a dream to be a singer,” said LeBleu. “I told her it probably wasn’t going to be much of an option. But here we are today. I’m eating my words, and I couldn’t be more proud. I’m excited to see what the future holds for her and to be able to ride this wave on her coat tails.”
Turning words to lyrics
Although Cassidy and Messina were cryptic when describing the song they created, as to not give too much away before the big night, Cassidy said it tells an intimate story: her own.
“I started by asking her questions,” said Messina. “Things like, ‘How do you make it through?’ We turned our conversation into a song. I wanted her to get her feelings out. I believe everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is important. It allowed her to express herself in a unique and beautiful way, and in a way that can be quite cathartic.”
During their conversation, Cassidy recounted a time when she saw a woman walking down the hall at Seattle Children’s. She said she remembered the woman’s somber face, like she had just been given bad news. To make the woman feel better, Cassidy played her a song to make her smile. That’s the kind of person Cassidy is, and the kind of story the song expresses.
“To me, music is healing,” said Cassidy. “I was able to take that woman’s pain away, even if it was just for a little while. Giving other people joy gives me joy.”
When Cassidy isn’t a patient at Seattle Children’s, she still visits. With her ukulele in hand, she plays songs for patients and families.
A concert to remember
Epoch, as described by Messina, is about being enough just as we are. It is about inspiring strength and supporting one another as we navigate through the beauty and uncertainty that are inescapable hallmarks of life. For Cassidy, it means inspiring others through song and sharing a message of hope.
“Music has gotten me through a lot,” said Cassidy. “When I’m in a bad place and feeling down, I think to myself, ‘Why me? I didn’t do anything wrong.’ I should be out doing normal things, but then again I’m not normal, and I don’t think I’ll ever be normal.”
For Cassidy, it’s okay to not be normal. In her words, “Normal is overrated.” To other people facing adversity and obstacles, she wants them to know she understands. Her message is simple: Believe in yourself. It’s a message she takes to heart. One day, she believes she’ll be performing on Broadway. This concert is one step closer to that dream.
Mateo Messina’s 20th annual benefit concert, presented by the LUMA Guild, weaves common themes from our lives, inspired by the unique era we are living in, and written to embrace and celebrate our interconnectedness. To purchase tickets to Epoch on Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. visit LUMA Guild’s event page.
Ticket purchases will directly benefit Seattle Children’s and pediatric cancer research.