This story isn’t one that fits neatly into any of our normal categories, but it’s one that deserves to be told. A 96-year-old man from Peoria, IL, Fred Stobaugh, has become a viral Internet sensation, broken onto the Billboard charts and currently holds the No. 10 iTunes top singles slot—all owing to a song he wrote for his wife Lorraine, who passed away earlier this year.
Stobaugh wrote “Oh, Sweet Lorraine” in his living room not long after his wife of 73 years passed. “I just came to me,” Stobaugh said in the short documentary accompanying the song (shared below). “I just kept humming it…it just seemed like it fit her.” Stobaugh firmly claims he is not a musician, and that his singing “would scare people.”
When local recording studio Green Shoe Studio hosted a singer-songwriter contest, Stobough decided to send in his song, not expecting a response. While entrants were encouraged to upload videos, Stobaugh sent his in the old fashioned way: a lyric sheet and a letter sent through the mail. Studio producer Jacob Colgan explains, “As I’m reading through the letter, I begin to realize that his wife had just passed away a month earlier…Listening to the passion behind the lyrics, it was just so heartwarming.” The studio decided to record Stobaugh’s song professionally, free of charge.
Since its release, “Oh, Sweet Lorraine (feat. Jacob Colgan and Fred Stobaugh)” and its accompanying short documentary “A Letter From Fred,” have struck a nerve with people all over the world, racking up over 4 million views so far between YouTube and Vimeo. The song has also sold over 6000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, causing it to debut at No. 49 slot on Billboard’s Rock Digital Songs chart.
The power of music is that sometimes it is not just the song, but the story behind the song that gives it life. Fred Stobaugh’s story shows us that when you take away all the industry stuff that often clouds our vision and distracts us, great music can come from the heart of anyone.
Fred did not win the contest. We doubt he minds.