Derrick Boudwin was 18 when he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which robs people of their eyesight. The doctor told him he would eventually have to deal with losing his vision, but he didn’t know it would completely change him. Music turned out to be the key to lifting his sadness.
“To an 18-year-old, eventually means never,” said Boudwin. But by age 24, Boudwin was experiencing significant night blindness and losing his peripheral vision. The deterioration of his sight led Boudwin into such a depression that even after the birth of his first child, Boudwin found little to be happy about. “We tried all kinds of things to manage it,” said Boudwin. After an especially dark period and without success from psychotherapy or drug therapy, both Boudwin’s wife, Cami, and his brother suggested he sing more, recalled Boudwin. Boudwin has always loved to sing. He spent many hours commuting while living in California. He would sing to stay awake. “I don’t really feel like singing” was Boudwin’s thought. Taking their suggestion to heart, Boudwin discovered music to be “very cathartic.” “I started to feel these things I had never given myself permission to feel,” explained Boudwin. Music allowed him to finally open up.
Seeing music help her husband, Cami pushed Boudwin to make a career change from information technologies to musician. “It just seemed like a natural step at the time,” said Cami. Doing so changed everything. Boudwin had heard of a crowdfunding campaign offered by his favorite singer and songwriter J.R. Richards of Dishwalla in which Richards was offering to write a song. Boudwin reached out to Richards pitching him the idea of producing a song. Richards was interested in switching songwriting for producing and the two got to work.
“One song turned into 10,” said Boudwin. Boudwin worked remotely with Richards who lives in the United Kingdom. Boudwin had basic ideas for the songs stemming from things that have happened in his life. After six months of skyping, Boudwin and Cami took their children to the UK for five weeks to record Boudwin’s first album. Boudwin then enlisted Richard’s wife Min Reid-Richards, a director and producer, to help produce his music videos.
Boudwin’s version of Taylor Swift’s Red is grabbing international attention. Red’s music video is based on a true story illustrating the pains of knowing someone with Alzheimer’s disease. The music video has been sweeping up awards at film festivals all over the world. So far, the film has received five awards. Boudwin and his wife attended the Dances with Films festival to represent Reid-Richards. The film picked up the Industry Choice Award at the festival and enabled Boudwin to witness his music touching many. “You could hear the sniffles in the crowd,” recalled Boudwin who felt the experience was very surreal.
The singer-songwriter is happy to share with others the music that has helped him. “Regardless of revenue or what we have had to sacrifice, all we ever wanted to do was help others with the music that helped me,” said Boudwin. While going blind has complicated things for Boudwin, he says he can think of a million things that he is grateful he doesn’t have to deal with. “Everybody has ‘hard’ in their life,” echoed Cami. Boudwin still has his central vision but blindness is on the horizon. The four surgeries and steroid shots every eight weeks only slow the progression of his disease.
Currently Boudwin can see only things directly in front of him, but he is confident there will be some sort of treatment in his lifetime. Until then, Boudwin will continue to touch the faces of his four children attempting to memorize their features and write music to help cope with the changes happening in his life.
Boudwin also finds remedy in speaking to youth groups. He enjoys sharing his music and message of hope with anyone who may struggle. “I hope by them seeing a blind guy with four kids, they say, ‘if he can do it I can do it.’”