In 2010, Josh enjoyed listening to his Grandmother sing to him. He liked to hear "You Are My Sunshine" and "Oh, Susannah" ... a lot. So, his Grandfather found the songs on YouTube.
This brought Lew Dite into Josh's life. For the first few months, Josh would ask for the songs. But then he got the hang of YouTube and he would jump from song to song on his own. He quickly moved through Lew Dite's catalog of hundreds of songs from the 19th century, the Great Depression, and classic folk songs. We didn't know how much he was learning but it wasn't long before Josh was singing them himself, sometimes accompanied by his Mom.
Soon, Josh was listening to all of Lew Dite's songs and he discovered a Lew Dite original that he really enjoyed.
Since Josh was enjoying listening to these songs and singing them himself, I started getting nervous. Josh had just been diagnosed with autism and he was having a tough time in pre-school. I was worried that he would start singing the profanities from Complacency Blues and get himself in even more trouble. Fortunately, he usually sang the word as "ship" but I decided to send Lew Dite a note through YouTube.
Lew Dite wrote back pretty quick.
So, I wrote him back.
June 25, 2012 - Evan
Dear Lew Dite,
You have no idea how excited my son, Joshua, would be to get mail from you. Joshua absolutely loves all of of your music from "Oh Susanna" to "Sales Tax on the Women." He has preferences for various versions of the songs (indoors and out) and loves your duets and trios with Ukulele Katy and Raymond Crooke. He was asked last week to name his favorite kind of music and he said, "Skiffle." He has an uncanny memory and has, as I mentioned on YouTube, learned the lyrics to many of your songs. Fortunately, this weekend, I discovered that he thinks Complacency Blues is about a "ship."
If you do decide to write Josh, whether or not you send him a CD, I'm sure he would treasure hearing from you directly.
Lew Dite wrote us again and we finally learned that Lew Dite was just the pseudonym for an incredible man named John Parsons.
June 25, 2012 - Lew
I think you may have a budding drummer on your hands…
I will post Joshua 2 CDs tomorrow.
John "Lew Dite" Parsons
and then later the next day...
June 26, 2012 - Lew
I have watched Joshua's videos several times now and he is quite extraordinary. That he can retain all those words at such a young age is surely exceptional. I am very glad that you brought him to my attention and I look forward to seeing more in the future...
And we received the CDs. And Josh adored them. Josh's therapists started using pictures of Lew Dite, guitars and ukuleles in his sessions as rewards for appropriate behavior. I thought I should let Lew Dite know the impact he was having.
July 4, 2012 - Evan
Dear Mr. Parsons,
Joshua received your two CDs on Monday. He was overjoyed. He has been negotiating with me and my wife endlessly to get more time at the computer to listen to the songs while holding the CDs and looking at the pictures. He also loved seeing Raymond Crooke and Katy.
We recorded Joshua performing a few more songs earlier in the week and I've posted them to his blog with a special note to you. Since earlier in the year, Joshua has received a guitar and a ukulele as gifts. He doesn't know how to play them yet but he loves to strum them while he sings. Hopefully, the strumming won't bother you too much and you'll just get to enjoy the adoration.
As for Joshua's incredible memory... Joshua has autism. One of the characteristics of the disease is an ability to focus on individual topics with great intensity. Some kids choose baseball statistics or subway trains, my son chose you and the pleasure he gets from watching and listening to you on YouTube is used by all of his therapists to encourage improvement in his performance in all venues -- including his general knowledge and social interactions. He has a teaching device called a token board that I've attached a picture of.
It features you on one side of the board and a banjo on the other. As Joshua performs well in a therapy session, you make a trip across the board and when you get to the banjo he gets to listen to your music.
Thank you for your gift, for being so interesting to my son and for bringing such great music to the internet and the world.
Lew Dite wrote us back.
July 5, 2012 - Lew
It is after 1AM… I am sitting in my car at the local firehall (I'm at my country home north of Montreal). I have no internet at my country home so I access it at my local firehall parking lot. It is dark (obviously) and very, very quiet… and I am watching Joshua… I am honoured, humbled and happy that I can play a role in Joshua's life. It is a real privilege… I have tears in my eyes as I think about Joshua, myself and the magic of the internet.
Tell Joshua that I am a fan and to keep up the good work… keep singing and keep strumming…
And then the CDs just kept coming along with DVDs and cards. I would occasionally post videos of Josh online singing Lew Dite's songs. And Josh started guitar lessons.
We continued to write and he kept sending CDs and DVDs. Josh started a new school but Lew Dite continued to be a big part of his education.
January 25, 2014 - Evan
It's been a long time since I've written and you've since retired from YouTube. I just wanted to let you know my son, Joshua, continues to make progress everyday and he listens to your recordings and practices the guitar. He ends every lesson with "Show Me the Way to go Home." At school, they put small 'scripts' on his objects to encourage conversations and his language development. This is a photo of the top of his headphones.
Wishing you well,
The Father of your Greatest Fan
January 25, 2014 - Lew
What a wonderful message… I thank you…
Since I stop posting on Youtube I tell people that with my new granddaughter playing on my heart-strings I am experiencing music of a different kind. This is all tongue-in-cheek of course because I am still playing music regularly. However, I will venture to say that your email has played a heart-warming tune on those very same heart-strings.
Send my best wishes to my favourite New Yorker Joshua.
Later that spring, I sent Lew Dite a copy of a Canadian documentary about Josh's school that he had a fairly prominent role in.
In his response, Lew Dite told us that he and his wife would be coming to New York in August and they were wondering if they could stop by to visit.
April 15, 2014 - Lew
Well, in fact I do not speak French but my wife (Jennifer) does… so we watched the segment with Josh and Jennifer… I thank you for this.
We have friends in Connecticut and it is quite likely that we will be visiting them sometime this summer. If and when we do we will probably visit New York as well. My wife's niece is an artist and she lives in NY. This also means that I could have the opportunity to visit you and meet Josh… it would be wonderful.
This explains why I am asking about books on autism… if I were to meet Josh I would like it to be a positive event and given my lack of knowledge and experience with autism… well you know what I am saying…
Anyway, nothing has been settled yet but it is on the table. I will keep you posted.
We were overjoyed and more than a little bit nervous.
We arranged to get together on August 26, 2014 at 10:30 AM. We planned as best we could. We even made a schedule to help Josh through the visit, in case he got overwhelmed.
August 11, 2014 - Adriane (Josh's lead therapist)
So exciting!!!! How about a schedule for the visit, similar to the way hebrew school was structured? 30 minutes max with Josh earning checks and a song of his choice for every 10 checks?
And then, just 2 weeks later, Lew Dite came and it was unbelievable.
I wouldn't have believed it was possible.
But almost all of it was on tape.