Monroe native Rachel Ulreich remembers Allison Wyatt, one of the first grade students killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as a “kind” and “polite” girl.
She met the Wyatt family of Newtown because Ulreich’s sister Elizabeth baby-sat for them. “She was the sweetest little girl,” said Ulreich, a 2006 Masuk High School graduate.
A professional singer and songwriter performing under the stage name of Raycee Jones, Ulreich’s soul acoustic duo, Raycee and Mills, wrote the original song Light My Sky in Allison’s honor.
Allison’s parents touched by song
In a public statement, Allison’s parents, Ben and Cheyanne, said, “We first heard Light My Sky two days before Allison’s funeral and we knew immediately that it had to be part of the service. We still can’t listen to the song without crying.
“Allison would have loved this beautifully sad but hopeful song and we felt it was the most appropriate way for us to say our final good-byes,” Allison’s parents said.
As a baby-sitter, Elizabeth vividly recalls how much Allison and her sister loved dancing to their parents’ music CDs.
“One of my favorite memories is watching them run around, trying to sing along, with giant grins on their faces,” Elizabeth said. “We had fun. I’ll always remember the music, the coloring, the books, the laughing and, most of all, the hugs before helping to put them down for naps.”
‘Compelled to write a song’
In the aftermath of the shooting, as Rachel and Elizabeth found solace with their family in Monroe, Allison’s parents gratefully accepted Rachel’s offer to provide musical accompaniment for the upcoming funeral service.
However, Rachel had no intention of penning a new song.
“It happened so easily and came so quickly to me,” she explained. “I’ve lost people before, but I’ve never felt compelled in this way to write a song. It was very moving for me as a writer. It came from somewhere beyond myself.”
Rachel briefly returned to New York to complete the music and lyrics with her writing and performing partner, Mark Sanderlin, whose stage name is “Mills.”
Performing at the services was an emotional experience for Raycee and Mills.
Mills said, “It was one of the most difficult, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting experiences I’ve had as a musician, a writer and a human being.”
After the services, the Wyatt family talked to the musicians about recording Light My Sky to help raise money for a memorial fund in Allison’s name.
“I feel blessed to be able to offer a positive direction for people to look in during this incomprehensible time,” Ulreich said.
On national show
In early February, Raycee and Mills taped The Marie Osmond Show, where they performed Light My Sky before a live audience. The episode aired Feb. 19 on the Hallmark television channel.
“It was amazing,” Ulreich said. “The whole audience was crying. Marie [Osmond] lost her son a few years ago, so she was very moved by it. It’s the kind of song that touches anyone who has lost someone.”
Music always has been an important part of Ulreich’s life. She began writing songs in elementary school, and she admitted to forming her first “all-girl group” in third grade.
Although Ulreich performed leading roles in many musical theater productions at Masuk High School, in addition to participating in select choral ensembles, she said “a whole new door” opened to her artistically when she attended college.
At Hofstra University on Long Island, Ulreich met fellow singers and songwriters. They immediately formed jazz and cover bands that played at venues in the tri-state area.
She continues to perform with The Dirty Gems, a rock/pop/soul band that plays original songs. She is the lead vocalist and co-writer with Sanderlin.
The band has performed in Connecticut, Boston, New York City, and Maryland. The band is scheduled to make its second appearance at New York’s Battle of the Boroughs competition March 1.
Ulreich has upcoming performances in Bridgeport on March 8, in Fairfield with Band Together at an Alzheimer’s Association benefit on March 15, and in Manchester on March 30.