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Supporting sickle-cell research is a way of life for Christen Dukes

Christen Dukes, at age 21, is an accomplished musician and producer, a seasoned philanthropist and a 2019 graduate of Visible Music College Music College with a bachelors degree in music production.

Oh, and one other important detail. Dukes was born with sickle cell anemia.

“I’ve been coming to St. Jude (Children’s Research Hospital) since I was about three years old,” said Dukes. “I am so grateful for all that was done for me in my life-long battle with sickle cell. To be able to present this concert each year means so much because I am able to give back, and I plan on continuing to sponsor it annually.”

Christen Dukes Presents the 6th Annual Sickle Cell Awareness Benefit Concert was staged this year at “The CMPLX” (The Complex). Donors and sponsors have helped Dukes raise thousands of dollars for sickle-cell research at St. Jude since he began the fundraiser at age 15.

Each year, an intimate setting of friends and supporters get together to enjoy an entertaining lineup of artists serving smooth jazz, R&B favorites, sultry blues and some contemporary gospel standards while feasting on a variety of hors d’oeuvres and free-flowing libations.

Brenae on the mic at Christen Dukes’ 6th Annual Sickle Cell Awareness Benefit Concert. (Photos: Special to The New Tri-State Defender)

Dukes, who has mastered the baritone horn and trombone, got by with a little help from his friends – vocalists Chordz, J Buck, Doll McCoy and Brenae Johnson.

Catherine Williams, his mother, said the night was magical.

“It’s an evening filled with great music, getting together with good friends and just enjoying a nice, relaxing evening out,” said Williams. “And it’s all for a good cause. We all look forward to the concert every year.”

In May, Ninth District Congressman Steve Cohen recognized Dukes with a proclamation for his achievements in music, philanthropy and community service.

The passion that drives him is linked to an acute awareness of the importance of research in the fight against sickle cell and all childhood cancers.

“I’m not in remission, but I take a medication called Hydroxyurea, which promotes the formation of healthy blood cells and minimizes the production of unhealthy sickle-shaped cells in the blood. On-going research is important, and I will continue to support the great work being done at St. Jude,” he said.

St. Jude staffers, who have known Christen since he was a baby, are among the strongest supporters of the annual fundraiser.

“I always enjoy coming out to support Christen’s concerts,” said Linda McGill, a research specialist who works in the St. Jude laboratory. “We enjoy all kinds of music, a little bit of everything, you know. And much needed funds are raised for research. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Sickle cell disease is predominant among African Americans. About 10 percent of African Americans in the United States carry the sickle cell trait. When both parents carry the sickle cell trait, the disease develops in their offspring. People who have sickle cell trait do not develop sickle cell disease, but they do have increased risks of some complications of the disorder.

Dukes plans to open a recording studio in coming weeks to produce promising young artists as well as his own brand of horn play.

“Life is great, and I realize that the quality of life I enjoy is because God used the people at St. Jude to treat my sickle cell as I was growing up,” said Dukes. “Every day is a good day, and I’m ready to go wherever my music career takes me. But I will always be committed to the annual concert fundraisers to raise our community’s awareness of sickle cell anemia.”

St. Jude has the world’s best survival rates for some of the most aggressive forms of childhood cancer. The hospital treats children from all 50 states and around the world. The families of St. Jude patients never receive a bill for treatment.

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