When Kate Dawson ’96 and her husband, Jed Cohen, learned on New Year’s Eve 2010 that they were expecting their first child, they also expected a year of changes. But the New York couple (pictured above with their 13-month- old son, Zeke, and dog, Sophie) could not have anticipated the many changes that year would bring to their lives or the opportunity they would have to bring about change in the lives of others. Their journey into this unexpected future began with Dawson’s reminiscences about her past.
As 2011 began, Dawson found her thoughts turning to the women in her life who were role models for motherhood: her own mother, grandmothers, aunt and sister. With those thoughts came memories of her beloved cousin, Jill, a young mother who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2006.
“As I began to focus more on becoming a mother, I started to think about how awful it must have been for Jill, knowing she would have to leave her children,” Dawson remembers. “She was an amazing mother, and I wanted to do something to honor her, to bring families together and hopefully raise some money to fight breast cancer.”
As a veteran performer and lifelong music lover, Dawson dreamed of creating a music CD, with proceeds from sales going to fund breast cancer charities. “I knew it had to be something involving music because that’s where my heart and soul are,” Dawson says. “Growing up, I was always singing around the house. And everyone knew that there were always show tunes playing at the Dawsons’.”
So she hit upon the idea of a CD of lullabies featuring Broadway performers and composers. “That seemed like the perfect vehicle to memorialize Jill and contribute to the world,” she says. It was also perfect timing. Dawson had completed performances of her one-woman off-Broadway show (which she also wrote and produced) and, while awaiting the birth of her son, found herself ready to take on another creative opportunity. “While at Millikin, I realized that I found more fulfillment and joy in creating things,” says Dawson. “I love performing – and I will always perform, but playing roles that have been played hundreds of times isn’t as interesting to me. What I want is to create and send things out into the world that matter.”
When she first began contacting performer and composer friends to enlist their support for the project, Dawson wondered if anyone would be interested in participating. “I had no sense of whether this was something the world wanted,” Dawson says. “I didn’t want to make a CD of cheesy lullabies – I really wanted a collection of songs that were comforting and calming for children, but that were also interesting for adults, so that it could be something families could and would share.” One of the friends she contacted was respected dramaturg and educator Jodi Glucksman.
“We went out to dinner with our husbands and discussed it,” Dawson says. “Jodi was very supportive and loved the idea of the profits from the sales going to breast cancer charities.” Glucksman’s enthusiasm for the project (she eventually signed on as co-producer and sponsor) is understandable. She lost her grandmother to breast cancer, her mother and mother-in-law are both survivors of the disease, and her sister-in-law is a breast cancer surgeon. As veterans of New York’s theatrical community, Dawson and Glucksman compared notes and contacted friends and acquaintances to gauge interest in the project. As they began hearing back from composers, musicians and performers, they realized that almost all of them had some experience with breast cancer.
“Unfortunately, this disease is so much a part of all of our lives now, it seems there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t been touched by it,” Dawson says. Perhaps as a result of this shared experience with breast cancer, the level of interest in the project was beyond anything Dawson could have predicted. Soon, what began as a small album of lullabies transformed into an ambitious package including two CDs with 26 original songs; an accompanying illustrated book featuring 17 album songs; and an e-book. The project was also chronicled in a short film, “Over The Moon,” by Peabody & Emmy award-winning documentarian Barbara Rick and Out of The Blue Films Inc.
“We wound up with more songs than we could record,” Dawson says. “Great songs just kept coming, and suddenly, we had more than 35 lullabies. We picked the 26 that we felt made the most cohesive collection, but I hope those other wonderful songs that we couldn’t use will someday be heard by the world.” When they decided to publish the accompanying children’s book of illustrated lyrics, Glucksman contacted her friend, book designer Barbara Aronica-Buck. Renowned theatrical designers and children’s book illustrators signed on for the project, and Broadway and movie legend Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, wrote the book’s forward. “Over The Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project,” was released May 7.
“We had a free concert in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre to mark the release, and more than 1,000 people came,” Dawson says. “It was one of the most profound nights of my life; Jill’s family came, and it was an evening I will never forget. There was so much love in that theatre.” And in the end, love is what this project is all about. Dawson sees “Over The Moon” as an opportunity to celebrate and enhance the love between parent and child. “The forward Julie Andrews and her daughter wrote for the book captures the essence of what these songs are about — the connection between parent and child,” Dawson says. “When I sing to [our baby son] Zeke, he may not understand my words, but he understands my love. We share something more profound than words can express. Just to be holding him and looking into his eyes ... it’s amazing.”
Margaret Friend is the associate editor of Millikin Quarterly magazine. she has contributed to Quarterly as a writer since 2004 and joined the alumni and development team in 2010 as class notes editor for Quarterly. she and her husband, bill friend ’79, have one son and a 3-year-old granddaughter. she’s found there’s truth in the saying, “Grandchildren fill a space in your heart that you never knew was empty.”