Singer and songwriter Victoria Williams was living her dream — touring around the country with singer Neil Young — when her entire life changed suddenly.
While she was touring in Cincinnati in the 1990s, Williams’ hands started to go numb. “I remember I’m trying to play guitar and suddenly, my hands don’t work,” Williams tells Yahoo Life. “And so then I just started singing acapella without the guitar. It was scary.”
After her hands went numb, Williams was left feeling scared and wondering what was happening to her body. Neil Young’s stage manager told Williams that she had to figure out what was wrong with her. So Williams went to the hospital for a series of tests, including an MRI. “When they saw the MRI and saw these plaques in my brain, that's when they said I have MS,” says Williams.
After several hospital stays, Williams, who did not have health insurance, was saddled with bills that she struggled to pay. So several musician friends, including Lou Reed and Pearl Jam, recorded Williams’ songs and made an album called Sweet Relief — taken from a song title of Williams’ — to raise funds for her hospital bills. “All these wonderful people, they were worried about me,” Williams says. “And I listened to it and I was just in tears. People covering my songs — quite an honor.”
That inspired her to start a charity for musicians, which she called the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, “to help other musicians like they helped me when I got sick,” says Williams. The charity provides financial support to musicians and music industry workers coping with illness, disability or age-related problems. “It’s the last thing people should worry about when they’re sick, how they’re going to pay for it,” she says
VICTORIA WILLIAMS: My name is Victoria Williams. I've been playing music, I guess, my whole life. I'm a singer, songwriter, and music is just good for the soul.
My first record was "Happy Come Home," and the second one was called "Swing the Statue." It was probably '91, and I got this phone call. She said she worked for Neil Young, and I said, I love Neil Young. And she says, well, apparently he loves you, too, he wants you to open for him. I'm his biggest fan, so I would play my thing and then I would stand on the side of the stage and just watch him.
Cincinnati was when it happened. My hands were starting to get numb. And I remember I'm trying to play guitar, and suddenly my hands don't work, and so then I, I just started singing a cappella without the guitar.
It was scary. It was kind of like, what's going on with my hands? And I felt this buzzing go all the way down my neck. Neil's stage manager said, Vick, you have to go find out what's wrong with you.
I went to the hospitals and started taking more tests. And so when they saw the MRI and saw these plaques in my brain, [INAUDIBLE] said, oh, I think you may have MS. You may have multiple sclerosis. And I though, he's crazy. There's no way I have something big like that.
I was very scared at the time. I mean, I was in a wheelchair because I couldn't really walk. After being in all those hospitals I had, of course, a huge bill. All these wonderful people, they were worried about me. They said, why don't we do a benefit for Vick?
And all these people made this record of my songs. It was called "Sweet Relief," taken from a song of mine. There were so many musicians-- Lou Reed, I miss Lou, and Pearl Jam-- and I would listen to it and I was just tears. People covering my songs-- quite an honor.
I had paid for my hospital bill in LA, which was huge. I said, you know, we are always doing benefits for people-- that's what musicians do. I thought it would be great to start a charity that's for musicians. That's when we decided to start the Sweet Relief Music Fund to help other musicians like they helped me when I got sick.
Sweet Relief has benefited musicians, and people that work with musicians. Musicians aren't really covered with health care, as a lot of people aren't. It's the last thing that people should worry about when they're sick, how they're going to pay for it. We really need health care for all in America.
(SINGING) Here we are now.
A good day is really when I'm just not aware of the MS. I think music is always healing. Over the years, music has been such a gift. I feel like my life has been a blessing.