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Country-pop singer's music video creates memorial for late Wexford native

| Tuesday, March 10, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Country-pop singer, songwriter and actor J.W. Cudd
J.W. Cudd
Country-pop singer, songwriter and actor J.W. Cudd

J.W. Cudd — a country-pop singer, songwriter and actor — met Wexford native Michelle Liedke in Hollywood, where he and the up-and-coming actress lived in the same apartment building.

The two ambitious young performers became good friends and shared their dreams.

Two years ago when Liedke's life was cut short at age 24, Cudd was devastated. She died on Feb. 27, 2013, from complications during a procedure to change wiring and batteries on her pacemaker.

To memorialize her, he wrote and later recorded the song “Open Your Heart,” which debuted last month on YouTube, iTunes and Amazon to raise money for the American Heart Association.

“I wanted to do something in her honor,” says Cudd, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas. “She was that person where you wake up on Christmas morning or your birthday, and she was the first person who'd text you to say ‘Happy Birthday' or ‘Merry Christmas.' ”

Because Liedke was such a genuine person, Cudd says, he wanted to create a song and campaign with the same compassion. The music video features Cudd and several other performers, including Grace Victoria Cox of “Under the Dome,” Stevie Lynn Jones of “Crisis” and Hutch Dano of “Zeke & Luther.” Cudd is donating 100 percent of net proceeds from online sales of the song to the American Heart Association. The campaign runs through the end of 2015.

John Whitfield Cudd started his music career at age 15, and his first songs, “Let's Put Our Hearts Together” and “Gold Digger's Dream,” got local radio airplay in Texas, as well as in Europe and New Zealand. Although “Let's Put Our Hearts Together” spoke of the heart in metaphorical terms, Cudd used it to raise money at events for his local American Heart Association in Corpus Christi.

Cudd wrote the verses for “Open Your Heart” soon after his friend died. About a year later, the chorus — lyrics and melody — came to him in a dream, he says, and he finished the song.

Liedke was beginning her career when she died, and had gained several small roles in commercials and movies — including “The Next Three Days,” “Won't Back Down” and “Promised Land” — often as a featured extra. Liedke, who graduated from North Allegheny High School in 2006, had hypertropic cardiomyopathy, which causes an enlarged ventricle.

“She took everything in stride, and she became this dynamic, really unique, special human being that had a tremendous impact on the world despite her small stature,” says her mother Deborah Liedke, 63, of Wexford.

“It basically destroyed my world,” Deborah Liedke says. “It's not something that ever changes or gets any better.”

When Cudd contacted her to express condolences and share his idea for a song, Deborah Liedke was touched.

“When he first told me that, I envisioned a song, never imagining how big this would turn out to be,” she says. “I was just totally impressed with him telling me that. I knew there was not a shred of doubt in my mind that he was going to follow through with this.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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