Infected with COVID-19, White Plains resident, composer and singer-songwriter Donald Stevens was about to give up on his dreams.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but the virus almost left me for dead,” Stevens said. “That experience really messed me up mentally and put me through a depressive moment, but I heard this voice that said ‘just be still, everything’s going to be okay.’”
Stevens grabbed onto that moment, waking up to his true talent for songwriting and staying optimistic about his physical recovery.
Fast forward to now, Stevens’ song “You Can Change the World,” which was first produced as the opening theme for the award-winning show “Date While You Wait,” has been nominated for a New York Emmy in the Entertainment – Short Form Content category.
“It’s one of those things that you dream about and hope for,” Stevens said, recalling sitting in his living room watching the Emmy announcements on TV with his kids. “We were yelling and screaming.”
Using the idea that one conversation with a stranger can change the world as a launching point, Stevens wanted to write an uplifting song about the power of connection.
“With [the pandemic], we’ve kind of lost touch with that type of connection because of masks and the fear of getting COVID-19,” Stevens said. “In the song, I say, ‘it’s a good time to say hello.’”
The song, which draws inspiration from The Greatest Showman and Rocky IV soundtracks, shares the message of hope — a theme in all of Stevens’ music.
“Hope is the expectation that something good is going to happen,” Stevens said. “I always say, don’t allow your circumstance to define what you’re still expecting because, if you believe it, then you can see it happen.”
Stevens wanted “You Can Change the World” to have an uplifting vibe and a timeless feel for people to enjoy while listening. While writing “You Can Change the World,” he wanted people to be able to take away something meaningful from the song’s message while also getting the catchy hook stuck in their heads.
“I want to be able to get the message out to everyone that there is still hope and to not fall back on your dreams,” Stevens said. “It might sound cliché, but I feel like people have to hear it on a consistent basis because we’re hearing negativity all the time.”
A self-taught musician, Stevens has been playing instruments since he was two years old. Growing up in the church, he watched his father play the drums and piano and sing and was inspired to do the same.
“My whole family’s musical,” Stevens said. “Music just runs in our blood.”
As a music therapist at the Music Conservatory of Westchester, Stevens combines his love of music with his love of working with people. For more than 10 years, Stevens has worked with the special needs community, specializing with children with autism.
“Music is that vehicle to help them express themselves,” Stevens said.
Stevens and the students he works with have performed at Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and the Westchester County Center.
With the success of “You Can Change the World,” Stevens is now working on a full-length album called The Hope Project.
He is collaborating with H.E.R. backup singer Malik Spence and Al Hemberger at the Loft Recording Studios in Bronxville, who has recorded and produced music with Rihanna, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and NSYNC.
“The Hope Project is all about inspiring and encouraging people,” Stevens said, sharing that his next single, “It’s Time to Breathe Again,” will be out in early September.
“That song really speaks to what the whole world has been through with masks and social injustice,” Stevens said. “It’s time to come out of that place and become alive again.”
In June 2020, Stevens received an award from Mayor Tom Roach for creating positive changes in White Plains.
Stevens continues to bring the message of hope not only through his music but also in his local community.
“Don Stevens has been an active part of the White Plains community for years,” Roach said. “He cares about this city and its residents. He expresses that through his music, his faith and through his participation in important city initiatives.”
Most recently, Stevens served on White Plains’ Police Reform Committee.
“He brought intelligence and thoughtfulness to the work of that committee, as he does in all of his endeavors,” Roach said. “We are lucky to count Don Stevens as a resident of White Plains.”
Stevens will be performing at Gardella Park in White Plains on August 15 for Family Day. The New York Emmy Awards ceremony will be held in the fall.