Nile Rodgers has signed up to help bring music to people suffering from dementia after witnessing how it “transformed” his mother.
The man behind some of the biggest dance hits of the past few decades said Alzheimer’s had affected many in his family.
The Chic star told PA that his mother, Beverly Goodman, now 81, was diagnosed 13 years ago, but he was unaware for many years.
“She was diagnosed 13 years ago unbeknownst to me, because we live in different cities, and because my mom, when she hears my voice, becomes so intellectually clear it’s mind-boggling.
“She didn’t tell me and she was also suffering from one of the common symptoms which is denial, she wouldn’t believe it,” he said.
“Even now, we have conversations and she says, ‘At least I don’t have Alzheimer’s’.”
The US producer, 66, whose hits have ranged from David Bowie’s Let’s Dance to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, will help with a BBC Music Day initiative aimed at bringing music to everyone living with dementia by 2020.
He said he had witnessed “just how transformational music can be for people with this condition”.
“One day I took my mom shopping in a mall. As we passed every store which played music, she sang the songs with perfect pitch.
“I thought to myself this woman I’ve known all my life, is now all of a sudden a terrific singer. How did that happen?
“I realised that her memory is precisely honed in on those memories. It was incredible.
“At the facility where she resides, she leads all the singing classes. She’s like a star, music has transformed her life.
“This is a woman who, all my life, has been around incredible musicians and would never dream of opening her mouth to sing and now she’s the star of the show.”
The Grammy-winning star said: “My aunt lay in a coma for five years with Alzheimer’s and we would sing the Beatles’ song Hey Jude in her ear and every time we would do it she’d wake right up and sing with us…
“It gave us a sense of comfort that we were communicating with her. But as soon as we stopped singing she went back to that very vegetative type of state.
“But while the song was going on. She was right there with us and it was every time, without fail, for a period of about five years.”
While some experiences had been a challenge, “you can also look at it in another way” and the pair now have a “wonderful relationship”, he said.
“Maybe because the sound of my voice and the fact that we always sing together makes her so happy, my experience with her now feels happy all the time…
“When I walk in the door my mom lights up like a Christmas tree and we have the best time ever.”
Over 50 UK organisations involved with dementia care are collaborating with BBC Music Day, while Radio 3 will feature live music relating to dementia, and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour will explore with listeners how music helps them care for and connect with family members who have dementia.
Other plans announced for the day include the launch of a Blue Peter Music badge for children.
Sir Paul McCartney will be talking about his own “musical journey” and offering his tips to budding musicians for a CBBC live music-themed special.
And on TV, Bargain Hunt’s Music Day special features a battle of the bands with The Darkness’ lead singer Justin Hawkins taking on Feeder’s lead singer Grant Nicholas.
BBC national radio stations shows will explore why music makes people feel good with special guests, inspirational live sessions and playlists for wellbeing.
James Stirling, head of BBC Music & BBC Music Introducing, said: “With an ambitious aim to help those with dementia through music, BBC Music Day is delighted to be collaborating with Nile Rodgers and so many organisations to help those with dementia reconnect with their memories.”
Rebeca Sandiford, the commissioner of BBC Music Day, said: “We’re inviting all organisations and individuals to get involved to join us to help change lives through music.
“We’re encouraging people to visit the BBC Music Memories website at bbc.co.uk/musicmemories to make a playlist or attend one of the inspiring music events taking place around the UK.”
The fifth annual BBC Music Day takes place on Thursday September 26.