J. Mack Slaughter Jr. is on a mission: To bring joy to young hospital patients in the DFW-area.
The Fort Worth native, now 36, recently talked to us about his hit music career, and the motivation behind the organization he founded, Music Meets Medicine, which donates instruments and provides music lessons to patients in children’s hospitals.
Tell us about your journey, in the 1990s, and how you became involved in a boy band.
I think I was fulfilling the destiny of having a name like J Mack by being in a boy band! I grew up in a “Partridge Family,” so performing and auditioning was just something my sisters and I did as children. When a Dallas radio station,106.1 KISS FM and the Kidd Kraddick show announced that they were putting together a boy band, a family friend encouraged me to audition.
The band’s name was less than awesome. I did not come up with the name and I refuse all responsibility! The name was “Sons of Harmony.” Sounds more like a gospel group, right!? I was actually too young to audition, so I lied about my age. The band was around for two years and we got to open up for big acts like Bon Jovi, 98 Degrees and Jessica Simpson. We even went on tour with Beyonce’s old group, Destiny’s Child. After two years, we could all feel the boy band craze coming to an end. I had some solid leads for pursuing a solo career, so I followed my heart and went for it. Unexpectedly, it led to a career in TV and film as well!
And now you’re a doctor. How did that happen?
After leaving the boy band, I was playing shows in LA as a solo singer/songwriter, and I was approached by an acting agent. This led to many auditions, which ultimately landed me a few TV guest spots followed by a recurring character on a Warner Brothers television series. We filmed/aired a full season of “Like Family,” and soon after, I booked a feature film with 20th Century Fox called “Fat Albert.” Next, I signed a talent hold contract with Warner Brothers, which, basically, paid me to only work for them. Unfortunately, they didn’t find any good fits for me. Suddenly, I was forced to think about the rest of my life and find a different career.
Why an ER doctor?
Once I realized I didn’t want to be a professional musician or actor anymore, I felt lost. During this time, I would talk to my sister about her experiences as a nurse working in emergency departments. She told me some crazy and amazing stories about people in real need whose life depended upon a doctor or a nurse to help them survive and that interested me.
What made you marry your love for music and your passion as a doctor in founding Music Meets Medicine?
The marriage of my two passions was inevitable, it just took me a little while to let music back into my heart after I left LA. What brought music back into my life was my mother’s cancer diagnosis.
My mom was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer when I was a pre-med student at Texas Christian University. She willed herself through chemo, radiation and surgery to fight it. My mother and I have similar willpower, so she did well pushing through most of her treatments —- except one. There was a particular chemotherapy drug that had the unfortunate side effect that made her fingernails and toenails turn black and potentially fall off. Witnessing my mother suffer through one of her treatment sessions was one of the longest hours of my life.
My sisters and I talked about it, and for the next chemotherapy session, we brought our instruments. We sang. We laughed. We cried. And before we knew it, the hour had flown by. There was so much love and joy in that room! My heart had officially opened itself up and let the music back in. Not only that, it gave me one of the most powerful experiences of my life. One that I couldn’t stop thinking about, and one that gave me no choice but to share that experience with as many patients as I possibly could.
Soon after, I created Music Meets Medicine. We raise money, donate instruments and give free music lessons to teenagers at children’s hospitals.
How can others be involved with Music Meets Medicine?
We need donations now more than ever! Now that we are hiring music therapists, we not only need to cover their costs, we also need to purchase the instruments they will be giving out. Whether it’s $5 or $500, every bit truly adds up. I find it easiest to donate at Facebook.com/MusicMeetsMedicine, but you can also donate securely through our PayPal button at MusicMeetsMedicine.org/support
Cover: ER doctor J. Mack Slaughter Jr. shows his guitar and makes music with Lilianna Perez, age 10, during a 2019 visit to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Photo Rodger Mallison
Bob Valleau is a freelance writer living in McKinney, Texas.