Flame's Members Say Disabilities Won't Stop Band From Making Music

PHOTO Flame, an upstate New York band, is comprised entirely of physically or mentally disabled musicians.

Many start-up bands dream of achieving worldwide fame one day.

That the band Flame achieved the dream is remarkable in and of itself. But the band is extraordinary in another respect: Each musician has a physical or mental disability.

Indeed, Flame is the only touring band in the world to be wholly composed of disabled members.

VIDEO: Music helps on autistic band heal and live strong.
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The upstate New York band's members live with conditions that include Down syndrome, cognitive delays, autism, cerebral palsy and blindness.

Band member David LaGrange is blind and mentally disabled. He grew up in an institution and had a passion for rock 'n' roll.

"The Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, sometimes I listen to AC/DC," LaGrange, Flame's drummer, said.

LaGrange studied music and earned a master's degree, but he was told to give up his dreams of becoming a rock star.

He persevered, and for him, the band's success is a dream come true.

Band Has Changed Woman's Life

Flame was formed six years ago in Gloversville, N.Y., after an area talent contest for the mentally disabled turned up several accomplished musicians.

"Flame is a group of musicians that produce unbelievably great music who just happen to have a disability," Paul Nigra, the band's manager, said.

What started out as an experiment has quickly blossomed. The band had T-shirts, CDs and a tour bus, and has played to cheering crowds.

They've already been on world tour, including to Athens to play at the Parthenon. They performed at Eunice Kennedy Shriver's funeral this summer, drawing compliments from talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Mary King said Flame has been a lifesaver for her daughter, lead singer Michelle King.

King's daughter is autistic and used to be incapable of taking care of herself. Her mother says involvement in the group has changed her daughter's life, although mother and daughter still live together.

"Oh gosh, they have done, I just don't know how to explain, so much that they have done for her, brought her out so much," King said.

More Than Just a Band

LaGrange and other band members live in a group home in Gloversville, upstate New York. He said Flame has given him the kind of family he never had.

"It's fantastic, being able to meet new people, make new friends," he said.

The musicians' goal is have their music played on radio stations everywhere and to demonstrate what the disabled can do if they're given the opportunity.

"Our disability will not stop us," LaGrange said. "We keep going and the more we keep going, we want more people to see what we do."

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