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'Songs of Hope' further Parkinson's disease fight

Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Star-Ledger Staff

Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby and Graham Nash have lent their voices to a new two-CD collection to raise money for Parkinson's disease research.

The recording effort was spearheaded by the family of Selma Litowitz, a retired high school English teacher in Lawrence Township who has been fighting Parkinson's for 10 years.

Her children, Robert Litowitz, Debra Frank and Carol Golden, established the nonprofit ParkinSong Foundation, which will benefit from the proceeds of the new CD collection. It's called "ParkinSong: 38 Songs of Hope, Volume One" (Ryko Distribution; $19.98).

"She loved music and shared that love with us over the years, so this CD and the fund-raising concerts that inspired it are a labor of love for us," said Golden, 43, of Princeton.

The two-CD compilation was produced by musician Lloyd Maines, the father of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. It includes selections dealing directly with Parkinson's, such as Tom Russell's "Muhammad Ali" and Dave Alvin's "The Man in the Bed," written as a tribute to his father.

Robert Litowitz contacted some of the artists on the compilation, using connections he made through two prior fund-raising concerts and his work as an attorney.

"I had a prior relationship with David Crosby, and he agreed to participate, but I also had to talk with his management company and others. Then a collaborator of mine knew Bonnie Raitt and mentioned the fund-raiser to her, and she agreed. That's how it went.

"Heartfelt requests went out to artists and their management companies, and, luckily, everybody I dealt with -- from the smallest record company to the largest, like EMI -- were very helpful," said Litowitz, 48, who lives in Washington, D.C.

The Litowitz siblings in 2001 approached people at Lawrence High School, where their mother taught for 20 years, with the idea of a benefit concert. Billed as ParkinSong, the event was also a 50th anniversary present to their parents.

Comedian Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," returned to his alma mater to honor his former teacher and host the benefit, which featured several artists who are represented on the CD compilation.

"It was important to recognize both our parents' struggles with the disease," said Debra Frank, 46, of Yardley, Pa.

"We raised $30,000 for a research grant at the University of Minnesota. Since it was so successful, we decided to host another one the next year to raise more funds," said Robert Litowitz said.

"It was wonderful, especially for Selma, who has always had a great love of music. She's in a nursing home now, but is holding her own and doing as well as can be expected," said her husband, Mark Litowitz, 75, of Lawrence Township.

The second concert, held in Newtown, Pa., raised another $30,000, which went directly to the Princeton-based Parkinson Alliance to aid research for Parkinson's disease.

Their success led them to establish the ParkinSong Foundation, and they came up with the idea for the CD to raise additional funds for research.

"The most important thing for us as a family is that we are volunteering our time to do something that will benefit others," Robert Litowitz said.

Information on the ParkinSong Foundation can be obtained at The CD compilation also can be purchased via the Web site.

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