A classic tune rewritten to depict dementia and music’s ability to trigger lost memories

Dorothy Keteltas portraitToday I’d like to share a story from one of our Stories of Music: Volume 1 submitters—one that I wish I could have included in the book. Every once in a while, someone will send me a really great piece that, unfortunately, I cannot publish because of copyright issues. In 2015, Steve Keteltas, a musician based in Largo, Florida, rewrote the lyrics to a 1920s classic, “Ain’t She Sweet,” for his mother, Dorothy, to reflect what she was going through at the time. Dorothy was in a severe state of dementia and living in Tierra Pines nursing home, where Steve and his friend, Paul Kowalski volunteered, performing every Sunday morning in their Caring Way memory unit. It was in this setting that Steve and Paul would perform this new version of “Ain’t She Sweet,” among many other tunes, to entertain the residents and help trigger some of their lost memories.

When I first heard the song, I loved it, especially the charming way in which Steve’s new lyrics capture an image of his mother, and the brief moments when her memories returned to her as result of listening to music. Because the song is still under copyright, however, I was unable to include it in the book.

I recently asked Steve if I could share his story on the blog instead. He was kind enough to say yes, and he informed me that his mother passed away in October of 2015. In memory of Dorothy, and with a huge thanks to Steve and Paul, please enjoy their recording of “Ain’t She Sweet.” Steve’s re-written lyrics are also provided below.

Ain’t She Sweet
(to the obvious tune of…)

Ain’t she sweet
Though confined now to her seat
I can ask her but she only smiles at me
Ain’t she sweet

Ain’t she nice
Though my words do not suffice
She can’t understand and yet she takes my hand
Ain’t she nice

Just now she turns in my direction
The song I sing gets her attention

I repeat
Through the rhythm and the beat
With a tune that triggers hidden memories
Ain’t she sweet