Ken Sutherland has Parkinson’s disease.
He is no longer able to toss a ball with his grandson, hold a paintbrush or play music on a piano. His wife, Laura, is an ordained minister and also works for Advanced Spine & Sports Medicine in Dallas to support them.
But that’s not the story here. Sutherland doesn’t want pity.
He wants to see his play, “Lippi, The Musical”, come to the stage during his lifetime.
“[Parkinson’s] has made me ramp up my time schedule and get things done and I am conscious of it every day,” Sutherland said. “The nature of this show leads me to hope.”
Sutherland is a composer, lyricist, playwright and artist who has written songs and scores for a number of movies, including the 1982 family hit “Savannah Smiles.” He earned a degree in Industrial Engineering from Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, and began his career at the NASA research facility in Cleveland.
Fuller, Smith and Ross gave him his start in the advertising business, where Sutherland eventually worked for the famed agency Ogilvy & Mather. Years later, he moved to McCann-Erickson in Houston, where he worked on the rebranding of Esso and Enco to Exxon and wrote the lyrics to “Exxon Keeps Things Moving.”
“That’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” Sutherland said.
He left the agency, published a couple songs, wrote President Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign song “Nixon Now More Than Ever, Nixon Now” and then opened his own music production company, Sutherland Music, Inc.
His creative expression didn’t stop there.
Friends of Sutherland asked him to paint a mural for their child’s bedroom. He created a jungle scene that impressed those who saw it and landed him more painting jobs.
In 2003, he created the largest piece of public art in North Texas entitled “A Community In Harmony” on the exterior of the Rhythm Bad Instruments building, in one of the region’s poorest neighborhoods.
“The concept for the mural was ‘to foster pride in the area’s heritage and stimulate residents’ interest in developing a more viable community’,” Sutherland said. “It celebrates all the ways in which people of all races, creeds and ethnic backgrounds make and enjoy music together.”
Around this time, Sutherland said he began noticing a change in his body.
He had trouble walking. His hands trembled.
“I thought it was nervous energy,” he said.
As he walked down the hall for an appointment with a neurologist, the doctor watched him and said “you have Parkinson’s” before performing any tests or an exam.
Tests confirmed the doctor’s theory.
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