Sunday, January 21, 2018
Human Interest

Senior Melody Sister fights to stay on the stage, even if the notes aren't always right

ST. PETERSBURG

Sara Ann Butler puts on her '80s-style headband and tries to curl her stiff fingers around the neck of a bass guitar.

She hugs it close to her body to feel the mixed vibrations of notes made and missed. To her, all sound waves have the power to heal. She needs that.

The 77-year-old sports a haircut that will spike on demand. She chooses colors that don't match.

Butler is fighting to stay outside the box.

She was married to a jazz musician. In her career as a speech therapist, she used music to keep the lessons light.

But now, compression socks help push blood from Butler's legs to her heart. Her joints hurt. Since her bout with invasive candidiasis in 2015, she struggles to get her head out of a fog. She wakes up exhausted.

She laments losing control of the world outside her body, the diseases working against it. But on the inside, she wants to be the one helping people, not the one who needs help.

So she looks for a new gig for her band, the Senior Melody Sisters. They want to play at a senior center in St. Petersburg, mixing in some comedy and standards. She has two notebook pages full of the names of activity directors who have turned her down.

She says she is down to one Melody Sister, and that sister's schedule always seems to be full.

"I can't do the show alone. I could do it myself four or five years ago. I just can't do it now. But if people see what we do, I think they would really like us."

She's put an ad on Craigslist looking for bandmates. She settles a Groucho-nose-and-glasses mask on her face, taking care that the plastic won't rub her biopsy sores. A keyboardist hits a preset for a slow beat.

Butler can't reach the right notes like she used to. But it's not about just the performance anymore.

Contact John Pendygraft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8247.

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