Photo: Pictured above, Alan Dale Howard performs a song during his livestream concert to raise money for Feeding America on Thursday April 23. Photo courtesy of Alan Dale Howard.
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
When families nationwide are struggling to overcome the results of COVID-19, one local musician mustered his talent to generate some relief. Glencoe High School and UAB graduate Alan Dale Howard performed a livestream concert via Facebook on April 23 to raise funds for Feeding America, proving that despite the distance, helping others remains near to people’s hearts.
Growing up in a musical family, Howard began taking piano lessons at 5 years old. By the age of 16, Howard began songwriting and taught himself to play guitar and harmonica. Throughout the years, Howard’s musical talent earned him unforgettable opportunities like performing as an opening act for two Grammy award winners and playing at prestigious venues such as the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex Concert Hall in Birmingham, Von Braun Center in Huntsville and the Blue Bird Café in Nashville.
Despite the memorable gigs with applauding crowds and the once-in-a-lifetime moments that illuminate Howard’s past, he ranks the April 23 livestream above them all for one reason: its success represents more than one fleeting moment, but a better future for children in need.
Howard felt compelled to donate to Feeding America after his mother, who works in education, informed him how food insecurity affects school-age children. The meals these children eat during school hours often serve as their only meals per day. Combined with the recent school closures and economic impact due to COVID-19, children and individuals nationwide remain removed from nutritional resources.
As the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, Feeding America strives to unite individuals, charities, businesses and governments to end hunger. With more than 200 food banks that feed over 46 million people across endless communities and resources, Feeding America works to provide for those in need while paving the path towards a food-secure future.
Howard joined the fight against hunger with his livestream, never envisioning the incredible response that followed. Howard described the livestream concert as one of the most interesting gigs he ever played, considering the unconventional circumstances. Recently in February, Howard performed for a crowd of over 1,000 people at the BJCC. While he garnered a similar audience size for his livestream concert, the absence of clapping and cheering made it difficult for Howard to gauge his viewer’s reactions to his performance. However, when he checked his phone and discovered the abundance of interactions, likes and comments, Howard felt a surge of relief.
“I announced the concert on a Tuesday night and accidentally scheduled it at the exact time as the NFL Draft – 7 p.m. on a Thursday,” said Howard. “I thought that would hurt viewership and donations, but I was wrong. As far as the donation total, I was not expecting to raise almost $2,000. Even when times are financially tough, it is amazing to see people come together and give with such generous hearts.”
Howard raised over $1,800 for Feeding America, gaining over 1,300 views on Facebook. During the livestream, Howard performed hits from iconic bands and popular musicians like Journey, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Although Howard’s initial setlist was only about 10 songs long, as the night went on, more and more requests flooded in and he began improvising. While Howard wanted to choose songs that featured both piano and guitar, most importantly he selected entertaining and cheerful favorites that uplifted spirits and affected individuals in a positive way.
“My main goal was to distract people for an hour or two from everything that is going on in the world,” said Howard. “People need something to look forward to, especially in these tough times. I wanted to deliver a message of hope and try to raise some money for hungry kids along the way.”
Music creates an escape for Howard. As an expressive outlet, music opens a door to slip away from reality for a short while, disrupting the fear and anxiety that plague the world. During a time when nervousness seems rampant, Howard perceives music as a calming ailment that delivers some peace.
“I enjoy the escape that [performing music] provides me and those around me,” said Howard. “The best part of music is the joy that it brings those around you. I think this is the perfect time for music to heal and help those of us staying at home trying to get through this.”
While music influenced Howard’s life from a young age, science also fascinated him. After graduating Glencoe High School in 2011, he was offered the opportunity to participate in UAB’S Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, which sparked his interest in the brain. While in medical school at UABSOM, Howard discovered the perfect blend of his two passions.
“Music and medicine are both the story of life,” said Howard. “They are both equally art forms in my opinion. Medicine is the story of patients and their greatest struggles and obstacles. Medicine is packed with emotions—both happy and sad. Because you get to walk along with people during their greatest struggles, you get so many great stories from each and every day of practice. Music is similarly emotional, and just another way that we communicate our struggles to one another. This is similar to the way patients tell you their medical problems, and both fields require honesty and hard work to get the right result.”
After graduating as a Medical Doctor from UAB School of Medicine, Howard will begin practicing his first job at UNC-Chapel Hill as a resident neurology physician for the next four years. His wife Milza will join him in her own first job as a resident psychiatry physician at UNC as well. Whether its assisting patients in a hospital or spreading joy on stage, Howard proves that regardless of the circumstances, determined individuals always find a way to lend a helping hand when needed most.
“I hope that the livestream gave them a sense of hope, even though we are currently bunkering down,” said Howard. “Every storm runs out of rain, and I hope that my music helped them forget about the world around them for a while. The best part about the gig was the duality of it. It allowed people to be distracted from the anxiety of the world while also becoming part of the solution by feeding the hungry.”