A local phenomenon has gone worldwide. A group of talented musicians are changing the way people view disabilities one song at a time and inspiring others to follow their dreams.
Flame is a Gloversville-based band that performs across the United States and around the world. You can also find them rocking out at local fundraisers and private parties.
Their powerful vocals and variety of instruments produce a sound that resonates with audiences of all kinds. What sets this group apart, however, is the fact that each band member is living with some sort of disability. They range from autism to Down syndrome, blindness or paralysis.
Michelle King was diagnosed with autism when she was 3-years old.
“The doctors told my mom that I wouldn’t be able to speak. I proved them wrong and I spoke well,” said King.
More than just talking, she belts out her lyrics.
“Don’t let disabilities stop you from communicating with people. I communicate through my music,” said King.
In 2003, King won a talent show hosted by Lexington, the Fulton County ARC. That’s when she proposed the idea of starting a band – something she’s really proud of. She’s now the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter.
Another founding member is their drummer, David LaGrange. He’s actually the one who came up with the name.
“I named the band Flame after the Olympic torch. It stands for inspiration and hope and because we’re hot!” said LaGrange.
He was born blind, but he’s been playing percussion since age 14.
“Being blind is not easy, but when I play the drums, I want you to watch how I do it and you will be amazed. When I’m on stage, I don’t have a disability,” said LaGrange.
Adrienne Phillips is blind, too, but she’s a bright light.
“When I’m on stage, I shine!” she said.
Phillips does back up vocals and plays the tambourine.
“It’s exhilarating! It’s so cool, because then I get happy and it’s like, ‘Yes! This rocks!'” said Phillips.
Andrew Carpenter is living with autism. He said he was always very quiet, but nowadays, he’s confident and charismatic.
“No one really knew I could sing until my last performance in high school when I was actually tricked into doing a solo! That’s when I actually showed off my talent and everyone liked it,” said Carpenter.
Nick Robinson is a paraplegic but a powerhouse on the guitar. Shawn Lehr and Karl Blanchard are the congueros. Debbie Woodruff dances her heart out and shows the crowd how to move and groove. Jim Elwood and Zach Durkee play a big role as stage crew.
The group tours the Northeast in a custom bus performing more than 70 times a year. They’ve also rocked the Parthenon in Athens, Greece and took to the stage in Carpi, Italy.
“Come to find out people in the audience were totally blown away. Music is a universal language,” said LaGrange.
The band strikes a chord with adults and children alike who are living with special needs as they watch, listen and understand the message of these musicians.
“Even if it’s something not music related, there’s all kinds of stuff that people can be getting into. Just never give up hope,” said Phillips.
Flame has released five albums and one single. They are paid performers.
Merchandise sales go back into the band for equipment and new merchandise.