JB meets the indomitable Tony Memmel

In his two-day visit to our city as an item in the programme of the 14th Johor Baru Arts Festival 2017, from Nov 3 to 18, the inspiration who is Tony Memmel, 31, reached out and touched hundreds of lives in Johor Baru.

Tony Memmel [Right] with a section of the audience
 at the hall of the Cerebral Palsy Association, Johor
Tony, a songwriter and performer from Nashville, Tennessee, is currently on tour in Asia with his band.

Born without his left forearm, Tony found something in common with little Nemo of Finding Nemo fame, the clownfish which developed a smaller right fin because he was hatched from a damaged egg.

In the story, Nemo, in spite of being different, ended up being a hero who helped other fish trapped in a net, to escape.

When Tony saw how little Nemo was a hero to children who were born different, he was inspired to write an action song he calls, the ‘Lucky Fin Song.’

Tony Memmel, wearing his custom-made
cast to strum and pluck his guitar
This song is now part of his repertoire to encourage Lucky Fin groups all over the world.

In 2013, Tony won a Wisconsin Area Music Industry Award for Singer-Songwriter of the Year, an amazing achievement for a person born without a hand.

His passion for music encouraged him to learn to play the guitar. He was so determined to play that he constructed a cast or prosthesis out of Gorilla Tape – and extra strong tape – that secures a guitar pick to his arm.

After eight years of practice and failures, and with trial and error, he finally created a cast that worked for him!

Now Tony is an ambassador with the non-profit organization, Lucky Fin Project, a support group for children with hand and limb difficulties.

This one-armed guitar virtuoso also teaches adaptive guitar lessons to students with physical differences and helps them to develop unique, custom methods and devices that allow them to play music.

Tony and Lesleigh using sign language
to chat with a hearing-impaired student
Over two days in JB, Tony and his band, a trio made up of Tony and his wife, Lesleigh, and good friend, Joey Wengerd, performed their brand of Americana, pop, rock and folk tunes to different audiences at four venues, all free-of-charge.

They started with a show at Sekolah Seni Malaysia, Johor, followed by the next performance at the hall of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Johor.

The next day, the band performed at the American Corner of the Sultan Ismail Library and closed their series of shows in JB with a performance and media conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru.

In the first three shows, the audience – made up mainly of students – easily connected with Tony and responded to him with keen enthusiasm.

“Johor Baru is our last stop in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur and we are pleased with the meaningful impact on all our audiences,” said Tony when we met before the band performed in the hall of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Johor.

Tony showing his prosthesis with a pick
“I’ve been given a gift to do music and pursue it as a career. As a musician, every day I have the opportunity to serve others,” he added with a wide smile.

It was their first time visiting this region and Lesleigh agreed that the response from audiences here have been overwhelming.

Language was not a barrier when Tony, Lesleigh and Joey mingled with the audience and interacted with the special students.

It was particularly heart-warming to see Tony and Lesleigh using sign language to ‘chat’ with a hearing-impaired student.

That afternoon, the audience in that hall did not know that it was raining cats and dogs outside because Tony and his band simply rocked the stage.

They performed cover versions of popular songs like the Beatles’ ‘I saw her standing there,’ and ‘You’ve got a friend in me,’ a song from the animated movie, Toy Story.

A student from Sekolah Seni Malaysia, Johor [Right]
playing his guitar with the band for 'Stand By Me'
The band clearly connected with the audience who sang, clapped and grooved along to familiar pop songs like Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ and classics like ‘Lean On Me’ and ‘Stand By Me.’

The event was probably most unforgettable for one young guitarist from Sekolah Seni Malaysia, Johor, who brought his guitar along and sat in the audience until was invited on stage to play with the band when they performed, ‘Stand By Me.’

Tony and his band also showcased some of his original songs like ‘Rock and Roll Was New’ a song that Tony wrote when he was 13 years old.

Tony Memmel & His Band rocked the stage
When the band performed Tony’s ‘Lucky Fin Song,’ they got the audience singing along and following the hand actions.

Throughout the show, Tony interacted with the audience in his jovial way and added simple words of encouragement in a message that reminded us that everyone was purposefully and wonderfully made.

He said that each one of us has different gifts and talents to share and urged us to never give up trying to achieve our dreams, whether it was in music, sports, art or science.

After the last song, the enthusiastic (Read: screaming!) audience compelled the band to continue with an encore.

For the encore, Tony said they would perform his own song, ‘We’ll be on the radio,’ a composition inspired by his dream about his music being played on the radio and travelling the world for music.

He declared, “Being in Malaysia is a dream come true for me!” and the audience cheered (Read: screamed even louder!) in response.

A section of the enthusiastic audience, rocking along
as the band performed familiar tunes
The warm reception Tony and his band received here showed how they could both inspire and entertain. And Tony’s own inspiring journey and achievements proved that being born different didn’t mean being disabled.

Brought to Malaysia by the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Tony Memmel and his Band aims to share music diplomacy through public performances and a masterclass.

Their Asian tour is part of American Music Abroad, a people-to-people cultural exchange programme designed to communicate America’s rich musical contributions and diverse culture to the global music scene.

These exchanges, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Department of State, help promote U.S. culture and values through arts and music and also gives overseas audiences the opportunity to interact with American musicians.

For more info, visit website: www.tonymemmel.com

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