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Karaoke event folks sing for a cause: pediatric cancer

Whether it's a stiletto strut across the stage a la Tina Turner, swaying in front of the microphone stand like Aerosmith's Steven Tyler or emulating the high-energy high jinks of a certain Rolling Stones frontman, everybody wants to be a rock star.

Everybody wants to move like Jagger.

For the third consecutive year, the nonprofit Because of Ezra will give people that opportunity with Karaoke for the Kure: Solid Gold on Sept. 12 at the Orpheum in Ybor City. At the end of last year's event, people were still waiting to get their turn on stage with Rockaraoke, a Seattle-based band that plays live for singers and brings a 600-song catalog to every show.

"It's just like playing Rock Band except you actually have a rock band backing you up," Kyle Matthews said.

Screeching notes and off-key anthems are welcomed, he added, because that makes the evening more fun.

And really, having fun means as much to Matthews and his wife, Robyn, as raising funds. Ezra, their son who died from neuroblastoma in 2010, was always singing, laughing and having fun.

So when they set out to create a fundraiser for the nonprofit in their son's name, they wanted something that went beyond the traditional gala — something that fit their personality and Ezra's personality.

It helped that Matthews, an accomplished guitarist and keyboardist who still plays at some church functions, once played with one of the members of Rockaraoke. In 2012, the first year, they held the event in Los Angeles. Last year, they brought the event to Tampa and held a second concert in Los Angeles.

This year, the fundraiser returns to Tampa and a second event will take place in Las Vegas. Matthews said the nonprofit will have concerts in all three cities and eventually would like to have Karaoke concerts in 10 to 15 cities.

For now, the couple continues to focus on raising money to fund clinical trials. So many nonprofits rally to a cause and speak of the importance of research, but Matthews can talk about a tangible result.

Relapses stand as one of the biggest challenges for doctors treating neuroblastoma, a solid mass pediatric cancer, but the clinical trial Because of Ezra has helped fund at 18 hospitals across the nation is actually yielding results. Matthews said the findings will be published this year.

"Robyn and I both feel like this is a way we can keep being Ezra's parents," he said. "It's really cool to feel that his name is attached to the cure, that we're able to do this and see it change for the next family."

Even more exciting is that the trial will soon gain a new home at All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg, so Tampa Bay parents won't have to make the drive to Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando — a trip Robyn and Kyle once made for Ezra.

However, they don't talk as much about those challenges — locking up their Tampa home, leaving their support system and living out of a bag — as they do about the courage Ezra displayed, even as a 2-year-old.

"We really feel like Ezra started this fight and we're going to continue it for him," Matthews said. "The more families we meet, the more kids we meet on these trials … It's not just a lab, it's kids and families going through the exact same thing we went through.

"We don't think it's an incurable disease. We just think it hasn't had enough attention. These kids can't really speak up for themselves, so somebody had to do it for them."

Matthews talks a lot about wanting to raise awareness for the battle against pediatric cancer. September is pediatric cancer month and gold is the color. It thrilled him that Times Square did a tribute this week, and he longs for the day when gold for pediatric cancer will be as prevalent as pink is for breast cancer.

I'm pretty sure Matthews will take the stage for at least one song at Karaoke for the Kure, and while I'm not sure what he might sing, Kiss' Shout It Out Loud comes to mind. He's doing just that when it comes to supporting families and fueling the drive for a cure.

That's all I'm saying.

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