The Indiana students whose high school was decimated by a tornado in March were treated to an unforgettable prom night with Grammy award-winning country music group Lady Antebellum.
Lady Antebellum, which is comprised of singers Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood, hosted a private “prom” performance for students at the Henryville Junior-Senior High School, followed by a benefit concert for the devastated community at the KFC Yum Center in nearby Louisville, Ky., Wednesday night.
“We wanted to try to bring a smile on people’s face,” Haywood said. “We want tonight, at the concert, for people to just smile, have fun, dance around. We thought that was something we could offer to do to help as well as raise as much funds as we could raise.”
On March 2, a deadly string of twisters wiped out Henryville‘s elementary, middle and high schools. Thirteen people were killed in southern Indiana and the community is still rebuilding.
Henryville junior class vice president, Kaitlyn Maloney, 17, who rode out the March 2 storm with her parents, said the prom meant a lot to the students there because it gave them “something new to remember.”
“We’re not going to remember 2012 as the year that a tornado hit our town,” Maloney said. “We’ll remember it as the year that we got to go see something awesome, that some of us would never, ever get to do.”
The 500 juniors and seniors who attended the Henryville high school restarted classes in April 10 miles from their hometown in a Scottsburg, Ind., business complex. Cody Gray, a senior at Henryville high school, said he cried when he saw the devastation.
“I have a lot of really good memories with this school and just seeing it in ruins was – you can’t put it into words,” he said.
Just before Henryville Junior-Senior High School was hit by the devastating EF-4 tornado, Lady Antebellum had announced its “Own the Prom Night” contest, in which one school could win an exclusive prom performance by the country music trio.
Scott, the sole female vocalist in the group, said she got the idea for the contest while they were recording the songs, “We Owned the Night” and “Dancin’ Away With My Heart,” for the group’s latest album, “Own the Night.”
“For so many people, that first dance memory is at prom and so I thought, ‘we should do a prom contest,’” she said. “In our wildest dreams, we didn’t think that we’d be sitting here today and it would have become what it’s become: truly, something so much bigger than us.”
On March 22, Lady Antebellum announced that Henryville was the winning school. However, the submission that the group referred to in its announcement had not been written by the school’s students. It was a video submitted by students at neighboring Silver Creek High School in Clark County, where Henryville is located.
“Don’t get me wrong, we would love to have you at our prom,” one student said in the video submission. “But there’s another school in the West Clark family who deserves it more than any other school in the country.”
Henryville high school students were awe-struck when they heard that their rivals had submitted their school for the contest.
“We go to the basketball games, and they’re our rivals,” Maloney said. “But when they do things like this, and when we all come together, we know that we’re a community. We’re not just rival schools, and we’re family.”
And other schools, even as far away as northern Wisconsin, seemed to agree as they also sent in videos campaigning on behalf of Henryville, Lady Antebellum posted on its website.
“Once we heard the whole story, we said, ‘Let’s make this a bigger thing, make it a big community event to try to raise money for disaster-relief efforts and also just have a good night,’” Haywood said.
“Someone’s world [was] flipped upside down,” Kelley added. “It’s unbelievable how you go through that, but we know we can help rebuild and do what we can.”
Growing up in Nashville, Scott said she lived through a tornado and understood what it was like to “endure that fear.” She said her heart goes out to the senior class because of “all those memories that they’re missing.”
“That’s, I think, another reason why we wanted to do something special for this community - to maybe make new memories,” Scott said.
The country music group was not able to make Henryville’s prom in April because of a previous engagement, so it held the event Wednesday night.
The juniors and seniors each received five tickets for floor seating at the show. Silver Creek’s juniors and seniors were also treated to one ticket.
The benefit was accompanied by an online disaster-relief drive for the town. As of Wednesday evening, that drive had received more than $120,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.