ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Molly Mackin spoke with Green—joined by his friend and consultant, Robert McLellan—to discuss his career, education, and the journey ahead.
Chet Cooper: You recently got a chance to visit with, and sing for, President Obama. Not too bad for an 18-year-old. Tell us what that experience was like.
AJ Green: I did sing for President Obama. But even before that, I sang for President Clinton at a rally he had held for Senator Harry Reid.
Cooper: How did that opportunity come about?
Green: Well, I’m known around my school for being a singer—the staff know I’m a singer, the students—so they asked me if I would sing at the rally President Clinton was holding for our Senator. I sang the national anthem, and President Clinton was there, and he applauded me. He said I had a good voice and everything.
Cooper: This was in Nevada?
Green: Yeah. And then they asked me to sing for President Obama when he came for a rally for Senator Reid. That’s just how things came about.
Cooper: So now can we expect to see you go into politics?
Green: (laughs) No, not at all.
Cooper: How did your school know that you sing? Do you walk around the halls singing all day?
Green: Actually, I think that’s how it came about. I always walk around the halls, singing. Plus, I’ve done many performances in school for different programs. People always ask me to be the one to sing.
Also, because I have sickle cell disease, The Make-A-Wish Foundation gave me my wish of recording a gospel album with a producer.
Cooper: That was your wish? To make an album?
Green: That was my wish. That’s how all these opportunities came to be, actually. It was because I was singing at something on behalf of Make-A-Wish that I met my agent.
Molly Mackin: Are you still in high school?
Green: I graduated in June of 2010 and took a semester off to do music and see how things go with my career. I’m starting college on Monday at the College of Southern Nevada.
Cooper: Have you decided on a major, yet?
Green: Elementary education.
Cooper: Somehow I thought you were going to say music.
Green: I couldn’t decide between the two, actually, but I want to have a backup plan, and being a teacher was my next choice.
Cooper: Have you worked with kids before? Do you do any mentoring?
Green: I haven’t done any mentoring, really, but I have a love for kids. That’s what really makes me want to be an elementary school teacher. We don’t have many of those in Las Vegas.
Cooper: How did you get an opportunity to be onstage with Jennifer Hudson?
Green: Oh, that came about from being at André Agassi’s Grand Slam, which is a big charity event in Las Vegas.
Cooper: Sponsored by Denny’s?
Green: (laughs) No, no. Andre Agassi does a yearly charity event to raise money for his school and for his Boys’ and Girls’ Club in Las Vegas. He personally asked me to sing at the event.
My rehearsal was with David Foster. Jennifer Hudson showed up, and somehow, some way, we ended up doing a duet together.
Cooper: And you’ve got an album coming out, too! Is that right?
Green: I have an album coming out called Whatever You Need. Right now I’ve just been singing at different places, but soon I’ll become the spokesperson for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. Hopefully we can raise awareness and help find a cure. Sickle cell disease is not as well-known as cancer. Also, we want to encourage more people to donate their blood.
Cooper: Tell us a little bit about how sickle cell affects your body.
Green: Sickle cell is a pretty hard disease to deal with. Generally a person’s blood cells are circular, but in a person with sickle cell disease, the cells are crescent-shaped, so they kind of get caught in the bloodstream, which causes a really excruciating pain. It really hurts. Sometimes I’m in the hospital for maybe a week, or a month. It depends on how bad the pain is.
Cooper: Where does it affect you in your body? Where does the pain radiate from?
Green: You never really know where it will come from. It moves around, and you can’t stop it. There’s no cure, so it’s just something you have to deal with. You can lessen the pain by drinking a lot of water.
Cooper: You try to keep hydrated as much as possible?
Green: Keep hydrated and take pain medicines. That’s about it, really. Pain medicine and singing don’t go well together, because some pain medicines dry a person out or cause sleepiness.
Cooper: What is done for you at the hospital?
Green: Doctors give me fluids and pain medicines. There’s not really that much else you can do about it. Basically, they give me intravenous fluids to push the stuck cell. So I’m in the hospital for however long the cell takes to push through.
Cooper: You mentioned wanting to encourage people to donate blood. Are you saying you could get blood transfusions that would actually start to alter the amount of sickle cell that you have in your system?
Green: That’s right. I’ve done a blood transfusion therapy in which you’ve got one needle pulling out sickle cell blood and another needle putting in healthy blood.
Mackin: How does that work? What percentage of the non-sickle blood comes out?
Green: I have no clue. I think it depends on how much of the unit they can pull in. I really don’t know.
Robert McLellan: The problem is that we’re talking about a genetic disorder, so even after you extract the sickle cells, they come back. It’s a therapy, not a cure. You can’t just replace your blood.
Green: You can have an iron overload, also, from getting too much blood. It’s a tough situation. But I think of this whole thing as a blessing and a curse.
Cooper: That is interesting, isn’t it? Your career actually has been helped by Make-A-Wish and by the unfolding of all these events.
Green: Exactly. And that’s something I wasn’t expecting. At first, I looked at sickle cell as holding me back, but as I started singing more I realized that everything I sing tells a story of pain, I guess you might say.
I think recording my album showed how sickle cell can be such a hurdle in my life, but it also showed my strength. The night before I was about to go into the studio to record, I think, four songs off of the album, I got really sick. I had a lot of pain in my legs. It got so bad that I started crying. I felt like a construction worker was just hammering at my body..... continued in ABILITY Magazine
Excerpts from the Bob Saget Issue Apr/May 2011:
Bob Saget — Interview
AJ Green — The Wish That Made a Star
Ashley’s Column — Spring in My Step
Greg Mortenson — Schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Zach Anner — Oprah’s Globetrotter
Senator Harkin — Advancing the Civil Rights Movement
Dyspraxia — Real Emotions
Articles in the Bob Saget Issue; Ashley’s Column — Spring in My Step; Senator Harkin — Advancing the Civil Rights Movement; Moon Feris — Sounding Off for the Deaf?; Arts — The Craft of Education; AJ Green — The Wish That Made a Star; Humor — Fraying Genes; Dyspraxia — Real Emotions; Building Futures — Schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Zach Anner — Oprah’s Globetrotter; Bob Saget — America’s Funniest Philanthropist; Good Food — We’ve Got Taste; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe