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Archive COVID-19 2021

Music Is Medicine for Frontline Heroes

Q&A with William Robinson, MD, the spine surgeon who recorded an album to benefit communities hit hard by COVID-19.

William Robinson, MD

How did you become a social media sensation?
I was friends with Dr. Elvis Francois (aka, the "Singing Surgeon") when we were residents at the Mayo Clinic. He knew I played piano; I knew he was a gifted vocalist. During downtime on a 24-hour orthopedic trauma shift, Elvis showed me "Alright" by Mike Yung and asked if I could put together piano accompaniment. Ten minutes later, we sat down at a piano in the Mayo Clinic lobby, recorded the song on an iPhone and posted it to social media. Within 72 hours, the video had three million views. The rest is history.

Why did you record the Music Is Medicine album?
When COVID-19 hit and the country locked down, we recorded John Lennon's "Imagine," and it went viral. After watching the physical, emotional and economic struggles of countless communities, Elvis and I wanted to help. We recorded Music Is Medicine, an EP that includes "Imagine," Bill Withers' "Lean on Me," "Alright" and Andra Day's "Rise Up." It peaked at No. 2 on iTunes and No. 21 on the Billboard charts. All proceeds go to the Center of Disaster Philanthropy COVID-19 Response Fund, because its mission statement resonated with us. The fund supports families affected by a COVID-19 diagnosis, and those who lost their livelihood because of the pandemic's economic impact.


What's the most rewarding part of using music to help during the pandemic?
The worldwide response. We were contacted by a nurse in Italy in the very beginning of the pandemic. She sent us a very vulnerable message about how scared and intimidated she was to work her regular shifts in the ER for fear of contracting the virus, or worse, bringing it home to her family. She told us that our music helped give her peace and assurance to head into work on the front lines.

Is there a moment during your rise to fame that stands out?
Several. Michelle Obama shared our video and congratulated us on our accomplishments. We were guests on The View, Good Morning America, Today and the Ellen DeGeneres Show — where Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson playfully punched me in the arm! We struck up a friendship with owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and performed at the Indy 500. But of all moments, the most powerful wasn't high-profile.

Can you tell us about that memory?
Elvis and I were asked to perform "Can't Help Falling in Love" for a couple getting married in the ICU. The man required a ventilator, and his condition was terminal. His dying wish was to marry the love of his life. The wonderful ICU staff arranged an entire wedding, and the man was temporarily taken off the ventilator to exchange vows. Playing for that couple was one of the most powerful, emotional experiences of my life. OSM

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