RI man uses power of music to help quarantined seniors smile during pandemic

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MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Karl Detken typically travels roughly 1,000 miles a week to perform at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and retirement centers throughout New England.

But because of the coronavirus outbreak, the West Greenwich man has been forced to improvise. On Monday afternoon, Eyewitness News caught up with Detken as he performed in an empty outdoor courtyard at John Clarke Retirement Center in Middletown.

Inside the center, seniors sat next to their windows watching and listening to him play some of their favorite songs.

Detken had worked in corporate marketing for 25 years, but when his mom broke her hip three years ago, he decided to change course.

When Detken went to visit her at an assisted living facility in California, where he’s from, he was asked to perform a song.

“I did something fast like ‘La Bamba.’ I encouraged them [the seniors]…I said ‘Hey, if you feel like dancing, get up and shake what your mamma gave you,'” he recalled. “To my surprise, they got on their walkers and rolled around their wheelchairs for that one song and I just saw this room light up.”

From then on, Detken knew one thing: He wanted to spend the rest of his life making people smile.

Now 58 years old, “Kalifornia Karl” has performed more than 2,500 shows throughout New England in the past three years.

Since he can no longer perform inside senior care facilities due to the coronavirus, Detken suggested moving his performances outside.

“I started saying ‘Hey, can we do something out in the courtyard, where they are still socially at their six feet, or in this case, 60 feet away?'” he said.

Detken suggested to the senior centers he frequents.

“I can still kind of see them. I see them blowing kisses and waving,” he said.

In addition to the courtyard performances, Detken is also taking his talents to Zoom. Last week, he began streaming his shows in nursing homes.

Want to learn more about Kalifornia Karl? Click here »

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