25 Years Ago: LeAnn Rimes & ‘Blue’ Make for a Country Music Miracle

We love to speak abstractly about the healing power of music, as if it contains some supernatural powers that science could never explain. Most certainly, few other things can shift moods and improve your outlook on life than music, and without downstream repercussions like other alternatives. But can it really save a life?

On July 17th, 1997, 46-year-old Debra Diehl was driving her pickup truck on the Pyramid Highway north of Reno, Nevada, when the truck left the roadway and overturned, ejecting her 7-year-old daughter Tamra Diehl out of the truck. Tamra suffered serious head injuries in the accident, and was transported to Washoe Medical Center where she slipped into coma. The mother was initially charged with drunk driving, which she pleaded innocent to in initial court proceedings.

For three weeks, young Tamra Diehl lay comatose in the hospital making no signs of life, with doctors worried she may never recover. Profiles and news stories about Tamra gripped the local community in Reno and beyond, with people worried for Tamra, and presuming that the mother may have caused the tragedy due to being under the influence.

It happened to be that Tamra’s favorite singer was LeAnn Rimes, and her favorite song was “Blue,” which had been released the year previous. Written and originally recorded by songwriter and long-time DJ Bill Mack in 1958, when LeAnn Rimes recorded the song, it sounded like the 2nd coming of Patsy Cline. LeAnn’s “Blue” reawakened people’s appeal in classic country, and even though it only made it to #10 on the Billboard Country Songs chart, it ultimately won both the CMA and ACM Song of the Year in 1996, as well as the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. And that’s not all it did.

While in Reno playing a show, the 14-year-old LeAnn Rimes caught wind of what had happened to Tamra Diehl, and that she was the young girl’s favorite singer, and that “Blue” was her favorite song. Rimes decided to pay her a visit on August 6th, 1997—25 years ago today. Kneeling beside Tamra’s hospital bed where she still laid comatose, LeAnn Rimes sang an a capella version of “Blue,” and as reported in personal accounts, the young girl stirred in her bed, and her eyelids began to flutter.

According to Tamra’s mother, these were the first signs of life Tamra had made since the accident, and it was the moment the little girl began to come out of her coma. By August 20th, Tamra was awake, alert, and smiling. The young girl did not remember LeAnn Rimes singing to her, but she was excited to hear about it after it happened.

“She gets a big smile on her face. She laughs and everything,” her mother Debra Diehl said at the time. “She started coming out of the coma ever since that day LeAnn Rimes came here. We are very thankful to her.”

It could have been a coincidence, but it’s a coincidence that has happened numerous times with music, and those who’ve suffered from strokes or coma. A 7-year-old British girl had a similar experience in 2012 after Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” was played for her. Chalk it up to a miracle, but there actually is some science behind the phenomenon as well, and it’s similar to why sometimes those who stutter or lose their ability to speak can still sing.

The left side of the brain controls language, while the right processes song and music. So even if one side is damaged or recovering, the other side can still function. Also, stimulus like someone’s favorite song can have a greater impact than other stimulus for patients suffering brain trauma.

“Whenever memories have an emotional context to them, they tend to hold much more power in the brain and tend to be processed differently,” says Cleveland Clinic director of the Neurological Critical Care Unit, Dr. Javier Provencio.

Perhaps 7-year-old Tamra Diehl would have eventually woken up on her own. Perhaps she never would have. But the story does speak to both the physical and spiritual power of music, and specifically of “Blue” by LeAnn Rimes.

Later that year with Tamra Diehl mostly recovered, her mother Debra came clean, pleading guilty to drunk driving and causing the accident.

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