A western Kentucky man has devoted the last few decades of his second chance at life to bringing happiness to others by calling on their birthday and sharing a song.
Many of you reading this article may even receive a call from James D. Bridges each year, featuring one of the two versions of the happy birthday song he shares; children ages 9 and younger hear the traditional version but everyone age 10 and up is treated to a jazzier, personalized rendition of the song.
Bridges said as of Oct. 7, he had sang to nearly 7,700 people all over the world, including Germany, Japan and Saudi Arabia. He said Oct. 8 was an average call day with 23 birthday songs to sing. But the busiest day of the year is his own birthday, May 1, when he sings to 47 people.
"I wake up in the morning and I thank the Lord for letting me see another day, then I go get my book to see how many birthday songs I get to sing today," he said. "Then I think, 'That's no problem. I can sing to all of them.' And I do."
Bridges said his birthday song tradition began with his congregation at Corinth Baptist Church, where he's been a member for 63 years after his family moved to Roaring Spring, a small community in Trigg County, when he was 3. He recalled singing to fellow church-goers and as word spread, his birthday song list grew exponentially.
"It was about 1970-something when word started getting out that I sounded good when I sang so people started asking me to call and sing, 'Happy Birthday,' to their husbands and wives and children, then it just broke out from there," he recalled.
Bridges' wife, Theresa, who helps him keep track of the birthdays, said her husband can "sing like a mockingbird," and she's grateful he's still around to share it with the world.
"He had an aneurysm, they found it in May 1978 and he was given a 2% chance of survival; it was located where they couldn't operate so they sent him home and told him there was nothing they could do," she recalled. "Then in Nov. 1978 he hit a cow with his car, a big cow, when he was driving to work and when he did, he hit his head on the windshield and it shifted that aneurysm where they could operate. It was certainly a miracle of God."
Theresa said recovery for Bridges was similar to that of a stroke patient--he had to relearn to walk and talk. And of course, sing.
"He was just glad to get a second chance at life," she said. "I feel like that's what motivates him to do all he can to make someone else happy."
Bridges worked in Calvert City for some time and although he's enjoying retirement, said he misses his work family tremendously. He and Theresa had a daughter, Toinette, who died in a car wreck in 1998, leaving behind her 3-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who the couple raised. They also have a son, Joshua David, who is now 33-years-old. And along with his family and friends, Bridges said he loves his church.