He plays music to roaring crowds, but his best shows are for a much different audience.
All photos courtesy of Swan Songs. Used with permission.

Freddie Fuller is a country and folk music singer-songwriter who has entertained audiences at venues in and around Austin, Texas. He has recorded two albums, created a one-man show on the history of the Texas cowboy, and even performed for troops overseas. But some of the most profound performances of his life have also been some of the smallest, quietest shows.

Freddie performs personalized, acoustic concerts for people who are dying.

For the last four years, Freddie has worked with a small nonprofit called Swan Songs to bring the gift of music to people facing terminal diagnoses. Freddie and other Swan Songs musicians have played over 500 intimate concerts as a celebration of life for people nearing death, as well as their loved ones.


Why music? The answer is simple for Freddie: "Music is one of the few things that we as humans will allow to touch us in the deepest spots in our hearts."

In the United States, death is usually something that stays out of sight, out of mind.

Our conversations about the end of life are steeped in euphemism, and the actual process of dying seems to happen behind a veil — usually in a hospital or nursing home facility, rarely at home.

But treating death as taboo isn’t a recipe for having a "good death." Informed, nuanced conversations about the end of life can be helpful for both demystifying death and helping families navigate their grief. And a growing chorus led by health care professionals and social workers is calling for change in how we deal with death.

Swan Songs and its musicians are quite literally part of that chorus.

Since 2005, the nonprofit has fielded requests from the loved ones and caretakers of people with terminal illnesses and cultivated a community of local musicians who can help fulfill the recipient’s musical wishes.

When Freddie joined Swan Songs, he had already had the unique experience of playing music for his mother, who had cancer, as she approached the end of her life.

"I remember getting in bed with her in her hospital bed with a guitar, and I started singing to her," Freddie said. Years later, before his father passed away, he did the same thing — this time, with his five children in the room to share the experience.

The sense of hearing, Freddie noted, is usually the last sense to deteriorate at the end of life. So even if the recipient of his performance seems unable to respond or connect, they may still be hearing the music.

A recent Swan Songs experience reaffirmed Freddie’s believe that music has connecting power.

Another Swan Songs musician, Pam, had asked Freddie to perform a particularly special concert — one for her own dying father. When Freddie arrived at the hospital, about an hour outside of Austin, he found that Pam’s father was comatose and close to death. He gathered at his bedside with Pam and her sister and began to play.

"I played for 45 minutes or so," he says. "I played the last song, sang the last note, and hit the last guitar chord, and he took his last breath. We sat there very reverently and drank up the power of that moment."

That moment spoke to the essence of Swan Songs, Freddie says. Surrounded by music and love, his recipient passed on.

Freddie put his guitar back in his case and stepped into another role: that of a comforter and a friend. It was a short, soothing moment in time during a life landmark that is often cloaked in fear and despair.

That’s what Swan Songs is all about: bringing joy, connection, and peace to death, one of the most human experiences of all.

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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