Renowned Blues Musicians Celebrate Living Organ Donors with Concert Supporting Henry Ford Transplant Institute

June 08, 2018
Thornetta Denny Felicia Junior Sugar


DETROIT – Detroit’s Queen of the Blues, Thornetta Davis; noted steel guitarist Calvin Cooke and the publishers of Big City Blues Magazine will celebrate the selfless gift of organ donors at June 11 concert benefiting the Henry Ford Center for Living Donation.

After Shirley Mae “Sugar” Owens donated a kidney to her husband, Robert “Junior” Whitall in 2017 at Henry Ford Hospital, they wanted to give back. The publishers of Big City Blues Magazine, a national magazine for blues fans, they offered their expertise: organizing a concert.

“All the doctors in all the areas of Henry Ford took care of me, so I’d like to give back,” said Junior Whitall. “And not just to the hospital, but to the world in general.”  

So he and Sugar called their friends: Detroit’s Queen of the Blues, Thornetta Davis, whose sister is on the list for a lung transplant at Henry Ford Hospital. Steel guitar musician Calvin Cooke of the Slide Brothers, whose wife donated a kidney to him years ago at Henry Ford Hospital. And their friends at the Henry Ford Transplant Institute.  

Together, they’ll host “A Sacred Night of Music; Support for the Henry Ford Center for Living Donation,” from 5 – 9 p.m. Monday, June 11, in the Parliament Room at Otus Supply 345 E. 9 Mile Rd. in Ferndale.  

“The people who donate part of their bodies to save someone’s life – the living organ donors – are very special people,” Junior added. “And a lot of people don’t know they can do that, so we should encourage that. It’s keeping me alive; it’s keeping Calvin Cooke alive. And hopefully it will keep Thornetta’s sister alive.”

The Center for Living Donation, launched in April, offers concierge-level services to those donating a kidney or part of their liver to relatives, friends or strangers.  The Henry Ford Transplant Institute celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – which began with a living donor kidney transplant on January 4, 1968, when 18-year-old Bette Jean Alderman received a kidney from her mother, Irene Alderman.  

The Henry Ford Center for Living Donation provides organ donors with answers to questions about living donation, as well as support before, during and after their procedure. Every ten minutes, someone is added to the national organ donor waiting list, and the wait time for an organ in Michigan can be as long as five years. Living donation shortens that considerably. As of June 5, there were 3,294 people in Michigan on the waiting list, including 2,572 waiting for a kidney and 403 waiting for a liver. Healthy donors can give one of their two kidneys or a piece of their liver to patients in living donor transplant.  

“We are thrilled about the support of these talented individuals for the Center for Living Donation,” said kidney transplant surgeon Jason Denny, M.D., director of the Henry Ford Center for Living Donation. “We call living organ donors ‘Angels on Earth.’ They truly offer the gift of life, and we’re honored to celebrate them.”  

For concert tickets ($20 in advance or $25 at the door) or more information, visit and click on the “Henry Ford Benefit” link.  

Learn more about the Henry Ford Center for Living Donation.

Join the Michigan organ donor registry

About Henry Ford Health System and Henry Ford Transplant Institute
Henry Ford Health System is a six-hospital system headquartered in Detroit, Michigan. It is one of the nation's leading comprehensive, integrated health systems, recognized for clinical excellence and innovation. Henry Ford Transplant Institute this year celebrates 50 years of providing the gift of life. Henry Ford Health System provides both health insurance and health care delivery, including acute, specialty, primary and preventive care services backed by excellence in research and education.     

Tammy Battaglia
Henry Ford Health System
[email protected]
(248) 881-0809