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Thread: Soldier's daughter sends musical love letter to dad

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    Soldier's daughter sends musical love letter to dad

    July 14, 2003

    Soldier's daughter sends musical love letter to dad


    Christina E. Sanchez
    TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    When Jillian Russell wrote the song "To Dad with Love" to express how proud she is of her father, she never dreamed it would lead to a call from Casey Kasem or that it would be played on the radio.

    Ms. Russell, a Worcester native and an aspiring singer, actress and dancer, said that when she learned her father, Sgt. James D. Russell, was leaving for Iraq, she became overwhelmed by emotion.

    In the time before he left, she prayed that he wouldn't have to go. But in February, the time came for him to fulfill his duty.

    She wanted to show her appreciation for all he had done for her and his country, so in March, the feelings that permeated her thoughts were put to paper with the help of family friend Roxanne Pittman.

    "I wrote the song not too long after my father had left. It was hard for me because I couldn't speak to him. I had all these emotions going through me, and then everything sort of just came together," Ms. Russell said.

    After she and Ms. Pittman finished writing the lyrics for her song, Ms. Russell returned to Los Angeles. She has been living there for the past six months to pursue a career in acting and singing. In L.A., she worked with her producer to create music for the lyrics.

    For Father's Day, she sent Sgt. Russell the finished song as a gift.

    In a letter, her father described the day he listened to "To Dad with Love." Sitting with a group of his fellow soldiers, he opened the package from his daughter. Inside was the tape of Ms. Russell's song. Tears filled his eyes as he listened to her voice singing the lyrics she wrote about him.

    "I got a letter from him and he said he just cried and cried. But he says it helps keep him strong," Ms. Russell said.

    Sgt. Russell, stationed with the 110th Maintenance Company in Iraq, has served in the National Guard for 17 years. When he is not overseas defending his country, he is home serving his community as a captain in the Worcester Fire Department.

    "He's the bravest, kindest man I've ever met. He's such a hero because he risks his life every day," Ms. Russell said.

    In her song, Ms. Russell honors the work that her father does. She said the words are also meant as a tribute to all the men and women who fight for their country.

    She sings, "You've always had a private war, on the job as a fireman, saving lives for a living, while you risk your life once again, I know the heavens will protect you in this time, you're always in my heart and in my mind, I'm so proud of you."

    For the Fourth of July, Ms. Russell was hoping that her song could be heard by her father and other soldiers. She submitted it to Westwood One Radio Network in Texas, a station listened to by a lot of military personnel, where it played for the whole weekend.

    But Ms. Pittman, the co-writer, wanted to take the song to a larger level. She wrote a letter to Casey Kasem, host of the American Top 40 music countdown radio show, asking him to fulfill Ms. Russell's dream for her father to hear it broadcast.

    A few day's ago, Mr. Kasem called Ms. Pittman, telling her he loved the song but that it would be better if they started at a more local level. So that's what Jillian's mother, Janice C. Russell, did. She contacted WXLO-FM, 104.5.

    This morning, Mrs. Russell will be on WXLO's morning show at 8:30, where she will tell the story of her song. "To Dad with Love" will be played immediately after the interview.

    Ms. Russell said she attributes her success and talents to her father.

    "He's so supportive and he's such a strong guy. He has helped me build my character as a person," she said. "He always used to say to me, "Jillian, everyone puts on their pants the same way you do in the morning. Don't let anyone think they're any better than you.' It makes me think anything is possible."

    Ms. Russell, 22, is no stranger to the spotlight. At the age of 17, one week after graduating from Burncoat High School, she went to New York to study dance at the renowned Broadway Dance Center. She then enrolled in Marymount Manhattan College, where she graduated this year with a major in communication arts and a minor in musical theater.

    Her achievements include acting in off-Broadway plays, among them "Grease" and "West Side Story." She has appeared in films, including "Zoolander," starring Ben Stiller, and "All that Glitters," starring Mariah Carey. She has also danced in music videos by L.L. Cool J., Mary J. Blige, 98 Degrees and more.

    Currently, Ms. Russell is working with a producer from Jive Records on an album that she hopes to record sometime soon. On the album she plans to include "To Dad with Love." But even while she is busy with all her work, she said, she refuses to forget about the U.S. troops abroad.

    "The war's not over. Our troops need all the love and support they can get. We need to keep them strong. People should feel free to write the soldiers," she said.

    Ms. Russell said she encourages people to send letters to her father or other soldiers. Letters can be sent to: Sgt. James Russell, 110th Maintenance Company, APO-AE 09331.


    Photo Ms. Russell

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