In June 2020, the composer, music therapist, community advocate, minister, and singer-songwriter Donald Stevens was given an award by White Plains mayor Tom Roach for generating positive change. Normally, this would mark the culmination of a decades-long career, but the 35-year-old Stevens was just getting started. In fact, one year later, Stevens look home a NY Emmy Award for his song “You Can Change the World,” which originally appeared on the NYC Media show Date While You Wait and was asked to sit on White Plains’ Police Reform Committee. According to Stevens, these many achievements are built upon a firm foundation of family and faith.
“I have been into music since the age of 2, and at the age of 10, I started learning classical trumpet,” says Stevens. “As I got older, I began to pick up other instruments, like the guitar and the organ, from watching my father play at church. I received all my teachings from church, playing by ear and learning songs on the fly, but as I got older, I wanted to put some purpose behind the music. So, I ended up going to Southern Connecticut State University, where I majored in general music.”
It was there that Stevens found an entirely new way to aid his community, through music therapy, which Stevens continues to practice at the Music Conservatory of Westchester. This work also led Stevens to another life-changing career. “At the Music Conservatory, I was fortunate enough to start working with a young man named Matthew Welling, who was born blind, when he was 6 years old. He is now 16,” says Stevens. “We wrote this one song, called ‘Sunshine,’ which propelled us to perform at Radio City Music Hall twice and at Madison Square Garden during a halftime show in front of 25,000 people.”
This doesn’t mean it was always smooth sailing for Stevens, who not only was about to give up on music last year but nearly lost his life, as well. “In 2020, I was at the point where I almost wanted to stop playing music. I actually got struck with COVID and almost died. My third child was born in March of that year, and I got the coronavirus in the beginning of April. I was away from my family for 18 days, which was worse than the virus, and I went through a very deep depression. I got to the point where I didn’t know what to do anymore, and then there was a small voice, which said, ‘Just be still and know that I am God.’ That was the moment I knew it was time to shake myself off.”
Stevens did just that after receiving a fateful Facebook message from Date While You Wait creator Thomas C. Knox, who was just beginning work on his show. “Soon, the show’s executive producer, David Harris Katz, of David Harris Katz Entertainment, called me and said that it would be great if I could write a song for the show. After talking to Thomas C. Knox about my work as a music therapist and musician, he asked me if I could write a song that involved those experiences.”
“…and then there was a small voice, which said, ‘Just be still and know that I am God.’ That was the moment I knew it was time to shake myself off.”
Within a month and a half, Stevens had recorded the song “You Can Change the World,” and Katz shot a music video for it at Kensico Dam Plaza. “Before the show was even released, the video and show had already won 19 different awards. The video and the song won a Platinum Viddy Award and, to top it all off, he sent it to be nominated for an Emmy. Considering where I came from — almost dying and giving up on music, and now here I am, a year later, an Emmy Award-winning producer, singer/songwriter — it is just amazing.”
Stevens just released a new, hopeful tune, titled “It’s Time to Breathe Again” and is set to release his own apparel line, Branded by Hope, as well as a podcast and video series. Of course, he has other big plans. “My vision, and my hope, is to get all of Westchester to come together to do one, big talent show,” says Stevens somewhat wistfully. “It would be great to collaborate with people around the county and local businesses to get this going. I really want to do this because I was someone who had talent but could never really see it. I want to bring hope back to Westchester.”