The soulful melody of “There’s a Leak in this Old Building” struck a chord deep within Ricky Bartlett’s heart.
His journey through life had been a relentless climb, navigating through the rough terrains of low-income housing and battling the shadows of abuse in his youth. Yet, amidst the trials, Bartlett found solace and belonging in Iowa City, discovering a sense of peace, community, and the warmth of family.
However, life had more in store for Bartlett.
Necrotizing Fasciitis barged in during a hiking trip in South Dakota and Wyoming, forcing an emergency amputation. That mishap didn’t disrupt Bartlett’s spirit, nor did losing his right leg eight years later. Despite these challenges, Bartlett’s resilience forged new pathways. From the ashes of adversity rose newfound passions—acting and music— avenues for him to share his story and positivity while also raising awareness.
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Standing on the peaks of his struggles, Bartlett is not just surviving, he’s thriving. He is a morning host for KMRY 93.1 FM in Cedar Rapids and he has co-starred on the television show, “Chicago PD.” He’s also contributed to several voiceover projects and has lived in Iowa since 2005.
Bartlett is one of 11 nominees worldwide for the fourth annual Danny Awards, which recognizes talented musicians with the purpose of challenging society to think differently about disability. The local Cedar Rapids radio personality will be honored during a special ceremony Saturday afternoon in New York City.
A young boy’s battle inspires
The Daniel’s Music Foundation, founded by the Trush family, has hosted the Danny Awards since 2020. Daniel Trush, a seemingly ordinary 13-year-old, suffered an unexpected collapse while in his school gymnasium. This incident was triggered by one of the five undetected aneurysms in his brain, causing him to slip into a coma in March of 1997. On the second night, Daniel’s health took a turn for the worse, forcing his parents, Ken and Nancy Trush, to brace for the unimaginable. However, Daniel miraculously persevered, defying the odds.
Inspired, his father, Ken Trush, promised the family would give back to the community in a big way, thus leading to the creation of the Daniel’s Music Foundation to empower individuals with disabilities through music.
“We started Daniel’s Music Foundation in 2006 because we show how music helped Daniel express himself, and there just weren’t any programs out there like it within our community, and we knew how important it was,” said Ken.
Music therapy was key to Daniel’s rehabilitation. He played the trumpet and guitar before his injuries, and since then, he has taken up piano and even writes original music.
The brain trauma impacted much of Daniel’s life, but not his creativity.
“Daniel’s injury was really severe through his brain, and today he even has some short-term memory loss, but not but not with music,” Ken said.
Daniel’s Music Foundation is passionate about individuals of all abilities growing as musicians through in-person classes and virtual classes and The Danny Awards is considered an artist pipeline for Just Call Me By My Name, a record label for musicians with disabilities.
Honoring musical heroes
The Danny Awards selected 11 musicians from around the world for this year’s award ceremony, showcasing the skill, passion, and creativity that thrives in their community. Each person has broken down barriers and secured equal access to music. The Trush family calls each honoree directly to share the good news.
Bartlett, originally from Columbus, Georgia, now lives in Iowa City. He grew up in low-income housing and battled through an emergency amputation in 2014 due to the flesh-eating disease, Necrotizing Fasciitis, which he contracted while hiking. His right leg was removed in 2022 from a bone disease associated with the flesh-eating condition.
Despite life’s significant curveballs, Bartlett remains upbeat, becoming a beacon of positivity on the local airwaves.
“I didn’t ask for this, but I have found that a lot of people are listening to me more, and I’m getting constant comments [saying], ‘thank you for being so positive in the disabled world,'” Bartlett said.
Inspired by his surgeries, Bartlett decided to reach beyond radio and start an acting career. He starred in some indie films before making it on “Chicago PD.” Music was mainly a hobby until he was encouraged to submit an audition tape for the Danny Awards.
Cedar Rapids-based band “Vibe,” collaborated with Bartlett. They’d planned to record a different song entirely, but Bartlett couldn’t shake one particular tune. He realized how empowered he felt when he listened to “There’s a Leak in this Old Building,” swaying with the lyrics and the melody.
While singing is Bartlett’s recent passion, music has remained a constant source of positivity, from joining the church choir to playing tunes on the radio.
“Music is so empowering, and it goes far beyond that,” Bartlett said. “When I was going through a lot of hardships and turmoil in my personal life, music was always there for me as a kid and as an adult.”
Riding the wave of momentum
The Danny Awards honor is humbling, one Bartlett doesn’t take lightly. He’s thrilled to share his voice with a global audience.
“I’m excited because this is an opportunity you don’t normally get, but I’m nervous because I want to make sure I represent the people who are my listeners with radio station well,” Bartlett said. “Representation matters. “
Amplifying the voice of people with disabilities is a badge Bartlett wears with pride. Bartlett is also working with a movie studio to create the concept of a character for an upcoming movie, set to be filmed next year, featuring a double amputee superhero, an uncommon trope in most superhero films.
“I want to be remembered for standing people up. That’s the legacy that I want,” Bartlett said. “The Danny Awards, they have been incredible with me. The [experience] has been phenomenal.”
The Danny Awards will be held at Symphony Space in New York, where Bartlett and the other artists will perform at 3 p.m. Saturday. Bartlett will be the first winner to receive his honor. The ceremony can be seen online by registering to see the livestream.
Jessica Rish is an entertainment, dining and business reporter for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. She can be reached at[email protected]