Drema Ellen Slack, 85: John Denver's 'Sunshine On My Shoulders' : Songs Of Remembrance The grandmother often sang John Denver's "Sunshine On My Shoulders" because it reminded her of life's tiny pleasures.
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Drema Ellen Slack, 85: John Denver's 'Sunshine On My Shoulders'

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Drema Ellen Slack, 85: John Denver's 'Sunshine On My Shoulders'

Drema Ellen Slack, 85: John Denver's 'Sunshine On My Shoulders'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

More than 500,000 people have now died in the U.S. of COVID-19. NPR is remembering some of those who lost their lives by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We're calling our tribute Songs of Remembrance, and we're going to hear now from Marissa Yingling remembering her grandmother.

MARISSA YINGLING: I lost my Gran, who was 85 years old, and her name was Drema Slack.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN DENVER'S "SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDERS")

YINGLING: The song that reminds me of her, although there are several, is "Sunshine On My Shoulders" by John Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDERS")

JOHN DENVER: (Singing) Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.

YINGLING: For her, I think that the sunshine Denver talks about in the song is really a metaphor for these small joys - for reading books to her granddaughters, which was one of her favorite things to do; skiing with her son on the mountains in West Virginia; dancing with her husband or sharing a meal with friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDERS")

DENVER: (Singing) Sunshine on the water looks so lovely.

YINGLING: So my grandmother would sing this song to me on numerous occasions when we were just out on a Saturday afternoon riding bikes or when we were Ellen's ice cream on Capitol Street in Charleston.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDERS")

DENVER: (Singing) If I had a day that I could give you, I'd give to you a day just like today.

YINGLING: But now, to me, the song makes me think of the gift of being by her side during that final week. I know that we were very lucky to be with her. She was in an assisted living facility, and we had not been able to have a real visit with her since the pandemic began. So it had been almost a year.

And now when I hear the song, I think of how she requested to listen to music. That was one of the first things that she did when we entered her room in PPE and were able to interact with her in a more normal way. She knew that she didn't have much time left, and still, she was grateful for small joys - for being there with the people who loved her and who were able to be in the room with her on her final days.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDERS")

DENVER: (Singing) If I had a tale that I could tell you...

MARTIN: Marissa Yingling remembering her grandmother, Drema Slack. She died on January 12 at the age of 85. You can visit our tribute, NPR's Songs of Remembrance, at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDERS")

DENVER: (Singing) Sure to make you smile.

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