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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Dr. Elvis Francois: The Story Beyond The Song

Medicine is for the body, but music is for the soul. That is how Dr. Elvis Francois describes the healing powers of music. He frequently belts out powerful melodies—whether in between surgeries in the operating room, in the lobby of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he previously work or occasionally in waiting rooms, fielding patients requests and making them smile.

Wearing hospital scrubs, Dr. Elvis Francois and Dr. William Robinson, both orthopedic surgeons, began giving impromptu concerts during their breaks at the Mayo Clinic where they had their residencies. Robinson played piano while Francois sang. 

“We finished up a long shift and he [Robinson] plays piano and I dabble on the piano, but he actually plays piano. I was singing some songs just for fun and all of a sudden people started coming in, nurses were leaving on their shifts or patients who were coming in the hospital,” Francois said. “It was kind of amazing to see music bringing people together who were in a hospital, which is a very heavy setting — but seeing people come together around music and see how that inspired people was the first phase.” 

Francois posted his rendition of “Alright” by Mike Yung, which was the first song that he resonated with and with others. “It’s a simple song and the lyrics are essentially, everything will be alright. It talks about someone going through a difficult time. Sometimes the simplest thing you can offer to someone is hope.”

In 2017, as Francois was finishing up at the clinic and getting ready to drive home, one of the secretaries from the hospital called and said that she had a producer from Inside Edition on the other line. “I thought it was a joke — I was waiting for the laughter. But she never started laughing. And that’s when I realized the extent of it. A few days later, I got a call from the folks of the Ellen DeGeneres show and that’s when I had to pinch myself a few times because I thought this is the longest dream ever,” Francois said. “It was a really, really cool experience.”

Francois explains that the experience on Ellen was very surreal. He says that he has never aspired to do music in a serious sense, and while performing on a stage in front of a live audience while being broadcast, he felt like a deer in headlights. “But it was absolutely incredible. She [Ellen DeGeneres] was awesome. The experience was great. And you know, coming back to the hospital and seeing the reaction that my colleagues had and how all of us can kind of poke fun at it and enjoy the moment was definitely the best part of it.”

In 2020, COVID happened and the doctors kept playing music for the hospital. “It was amazing because as the world was shutting down and there was so much uncertainty, it just seemed to us that music was an incredible healing property. And, that’s sort of how it started with COVID, but ultimately, someone recorded us playing the piano and singing and I posted it on social media and then social media did its thing,” Francois stated.

One of Francois’ most powerful songs was a rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine. It was especially pertinent because in life, there are so many things that divide us. Religion, race, politics, social status — but today’s global pandemic brings us all together as one.  Francois wrote on his social media page: “Many lives will be lost. Health care providers will be under an incredible amount of stress to save thousands of people. But when times are dark as they are today, nothing shines brighter than the human spirit. There is something beautiful about a collective struggle. And the beauty in what we are facing today is that the only way to overcome this pandemic is for us to all come together as one.”

As Francois’ Instagram posts went viral, he began receiving responses from nurses and from people across the country that were dealing with the uncertainty of COVID. He says that his singing put a smile on their faces and knowing that he could have that impact with music was his new motivation to share more and as much music as possible with people.

However, Francois’ 15 minutes of fame continued. In addition to Inside Edition and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, he has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, Rolling Stone Magazine, interviewed by Ryan Seacrest, the Today Show, the View and countless other mainstream media. Francois also appeared on Fox Network’s The Masked Singer, dressed in a serpent’s costume and was praised by a tearful Dr. Ken Jeong complimenting his efforts during these trying times. Francois was also named to People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive in 2020.

“To be honest, I have no idea what happened. If someone would walk up to me, and say, ‘Hey, in a few months, you’ll be wearing a seven foot serpent costume, singing on the top of your lungs and you will be performing during a broadcast for millions of people across America.’ I would look at them and I’d say you’re definitely in need of some sort of help because you’re a crazy person. But I’ve just got to the point now where I literally have no idea where this incredible roller coaster is going. I think the best thing is to just enjoy the ride. So I don’t know what will happen, but I’m sure it’s going to be pretty amazing either way,” he said.

Even with all this fame, Francois considers himself a doctor first. He is the son of Haitian immigrants, and lived with his father in Miami while his mother lived in New York City. When he graduated from high school, Francois attended Oberlin College in  Ohio, where he finished his undergraduate degree before getting his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. He completed his residency at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., did a spine surgery fellowship at Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass., and is currently at Resurgens Orthopaedics in Atlanta.

“Music has always been sort of the heartbeat of a lot of my life. I didn’t grow up in a musical family. My dad is actually a pretty terrible singer. He’s tone-deaf, but he loves to sing,” Francois said. “So he would always sing — good days or bad days. So music was always something that he just played and listened to. And it would be a mood shifter for him.”

Francois says his father was a single dad and was instrumental in keeping him on the straight path. “I would get in trouble, be mischievous and he was always the one person who believed in me. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today … My dad raised me — he raised both my brother and I in Miami. (I saw my) mother off and on. She spent a lot of time in Haiti. My dad was a cab driver in Miami and had five or six odd jobs. When he was in Haiti, he was an educator and teacher. He would always point us in the direction of education.”

Francois says that medicine was always a calling. On trips to Haiti to visit family, he spent time with his uncle who was a doctor. “My uncle actually worked at one of the local hospitals in the center of the city. I got a chance to shadow him while he was making rounds at the hospital. There were lines and lines of people who would walk for miles or travel days across the island to get there to finally find someone who could help them. I felt like I wanted to aspire to do that. It wasn’t until the earthquake happened about 10 years ago, that I realized that I really wanted to help. I had the opportunity to visit the island and see people who were just like you and me the day before, walking around taking care of their families and after the earthquake they had broken bones, unable to do their day-to-day activities. That’s what made me want to help broken people, is how I say it, with surgery and that’s what brought me towards orthopedic surgery, specifically within the field of medicine.”

“Doctors have to realize that there are people attached to a diagnosis and that person is someone’s mother … someone’s aunt. And so for me, music was this whole experience — and changed the way that I view [things] and how I can connect with and impact people,” Francois said. “And for me, it’s with music—I think it was a reminder that humanity is really what connects us all and music truly brings people together.”

As Francois enjoys his moment in the spotlight, his father is beginning to understand his son’s fame. However, it wasn’t until he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show that he began to realize his son’s popularity.

His mother quite possibly knew he would be famous. After all, he is named after Elvis Presley. “My mom was planning on naming me Gregory, until she had a dream, [or a premonition], and several signs that she was supposed to name me after Elvis Presley — whom she was a huge fan of. “

Currently, Dr. Elvis is recording and writing his own music, with a brand new single, Broken Pieces, which he debuted live for the first time during the Sedona International Film Festival’s opening night. “Broken Pieces is a compilation of emotions or thoughts that I’ve had. And for me, the song really embodies the idea of what it feels like to be in a space, in a relationship, it can be at any point of your life where you feel like you may be broken and you may be shattered, but holistically, you’re still there,” Francois said. “It is the first song that I’d ever written and I hope that when people listen to it, it moves them. There’s a little bit of mystery around it. But I think the song itself speaks to a part of life that I think any person who has ever lived and felt what it means to love has felt before.”

And what has Francois learned from this whole experience so far? “I think the biggest change is just realizing that the things we do can truly impact millions of people. We may never meet those people and we may not even realize the impact that you have had on people, but you know, it’s the butterfly effect. If you help one person, that person may be in a position to help another. And for me, it just opened my eyes to that — and if it changed me in any way, it was to have a better appreciation for that.”

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