Man, 96, enters song contest to pay tribute to love of his life

Image: Fred and Lorraine
Green Shoe Studio

In perhaps the greatest possible contrast to the dominant story of the day (Sunday night's MTV VMAs), we've come across a video which will restore your faith in the beauty and power of music.

Fred Stobaugh, a 96-year-old man from East Peoria, Ill., entered a song-writing contest held by the town's Green Shoe Studio earlier this summer. Fred's entry was unique, in that this was an online contest. He read about it in a newspaper and mailed his submission the old fashioned way, in a large manila envelope. Inside was a love story in the form of a simple song, a tribute to his recently deceased wife, Lorraine, with whom he'd spent 75 years.

In a video on YouTube, Green Shoe, through interviews with Fred and producer Jacob Colgan, shares the very touching story of how the studio decided to turn Fred's written lyrics — for a song called "Sweet Lorraine" — into a professionally played and produced piece of music.

Fred's entry made the point of noting his age and that he had written a song for his wife — the woman he fell in love with at an A&W stand in 1938. He said he was not a musician, and that he was not actually a very good singer. He also noted that Lorraine had passed away a month earlier.

The contents of the package and the lyrics Fred put to paper were enough to hook Colgan.

"Listening to the lyrics and the passion behind the lyrics, and the letter he sent us. It was just so heartwarming," Colgan says in the video.

"After she passed away, I was just setting in the front room one evening by myself," Fred says of when he wrote the song. "It just come right to me almost, I just kept humming it ... it seemed like it just fit her."

The 9-minute video builds slowly. A gentle acoustic guitar plays beneath Fred telling his story and Colgan describing events from his end. Midway through, Colgan is shown working on the professional version of the song. He says he's been a singer-songwriter for years, but admits he hadn't previously been so nervous delivering finished music to someone.

And at the 6-minute mark, as Fred puts on headphones, we get to hear "Oh Sweet Lorraine" along with him for the first time. It's here in the video, with vintage photographs of Lorraine and Fred playing across the screen, that the tears begin to flow.

And judging by the many comments on the YouTube page, we weren't alone:

  • "Tears still running down my face ... touched my heart!!" wrote Daphne Hollingsworth.
  • "What a very special man you are Fred. I am certain that Lorraine is smiling down on you. The love you two shared is what we all wish we could be blessed with," said 66Negrita.
  • "I'm 70 years old as a man who is not normally prone to crying — but I must unashamedly admit this brought tears to my eyes. God bless you Fred," said alanaid1.

In a story on the Green Shoe website, Fred says, "The song really helps me. It really helps me. It just seemed like she's just sort of with me. Which I know she's smiling, she's smiling down and she likes that song, I know."

If you like the song, too, it's available on iTunes.