CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Here's a snapshot from Jaclyn Bradley Palmer's past life in Hollywood when she was a personal assistant: Her boss, TV celeb Danny Bonaduce, called her to double-check the spelling of talk-show host Craig Ferguson's last name. He told her, "I'm having it tattooed on my butt to show it off on TV."
Then there were the evenings she performed songs she wrote at such famed venues as The Viper Room and Whisky a Go Go.
Here's a glimpse of the 33-year-old's present life: She's playing a keyboard in a cancer patient's room at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center in Beachwood, singing lyrics she wrote about the patient and his wife's Italian love story to the tune of "That's Amore."
It isn't something Palmer would have imagined even five years ago. Her plan, since she was 3, was to perform in front of large audiences.
"Music is the cornerstone in my life, and being a singer had always been my goal," she says.
It is why she got her degree in vocal performance from Indiana University, then moved to New York and later Los Angeles.
But Palmer, who grew up in Lorain, says she has found her life's purpose: using her musicality not just to raise hospital patients' spirits, but to help them heal.
She had found peace in music herself. Palmer moved from Lorain to New York City on Sept. 1, 2001. She knew almost no one in the city, so when the World Trade Center attacks occurred 10 days later, she had few friends to turn to. Her dad, a lawyer, said he would come out and bring her home.
Not a chance, she told him. With the city essentially shut down, she took out her guitar and sat in her apartment in the Murray Hill neighborhood for days, turning her stress and disconnectedness into songs. She stayed in New York for two more years before moving to Los Angeles, as many performer-friends did during New York's post-9/11 economic malaise.
To look at Palmer now, pushing her cart of musical instruments and therapy tools down the hospital hallways, it's hard to imagine her belting out rock songs at Los Angeles nightclubs or singing backup in a recording studio.
"That was a blast," says Palmer, whose fuchsia blouse and lipstick contrast with the muted sage and beige walls on the sixth floor of Ahuja. "But it doesn't compare to my work with patients. Now I know this is what I was really meant to do."
Not everyone is lucky enough to discover what strikes a chord in her heart when she is 3. Young Jaclyn sang "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" at her preschool graduation. The crowd of about 100 rose to their feet, and the little performer was hooked.
"That was when I knew I could make an audience happy," says Palmer.
As she says, a child singing is always cute. But when she turned 12, she found out she had talent -- her tone, her pitch, her stage presence all made becoming a vocal performer an obvious choice. She won a scholarship to study at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, and got into the classical music program at Indiana. She studied singing in Italy, then moved to New York, where she taught music.
Then it was on to the West Coast, where her career took off: She sang backup for Kid Rock protege Ty Stone, recorded two of her own albums, wrote scores for TV shows on TLC and Bravo -- and got hired by Danny Bonaduce as his personal assistant. That meant regular appearances on his reality-TV show, "Breaking Bonaduce."
Bonaduce's then-wife, Gretchen, was in a band, and became a good friend of Palmer's, so Palmer handled vocals for the Mud Flaps.
But Palmer started to chafe at the chaos of living and working in Los Angeles.
"Sometimes you have to move away to want to come home, and that's what happened to me," she says. "Also, I was on this train of performing, and I started thinking, there had to be something I could give to the greater good -- something with music, but meaningful."
She moved back three years later and was singing in a downtown Cleveland restaurant the following year when she met her husband-to-be, Oliver Palmer. At the same time, she was teaching voice at the School of Rock in Highland Heights and the Beck Center in Lakewood. She volunteered, too -- at Rainbow Babies and Children's hospital.
She learned from employees at the volunteer office that University Hospitals had a music therapy program, which was started by one of the field's pioneers, Deforia Lane, who is internationally recognized for her work.
So Palmer focused on getting a post-baccalaureate music therapy degree from Cleveland State, which meant taking courses in anatomy, psychology and special education.
"I loved every minute of it," says Palmer. "An amazing fire was lit within me because everything I'd done to this point in my life led me to this."
She finished her degree and an internship, at University Hospitals. Now, the downtown resident splits her time between working as a music therapist at the Connor Integrative Medicine Network at Ahuja and working alongside a surgeon, nurse anesthetists and Lane on a music therapy study, funded by the Kulas Foundation and sponsored by Case Western Reserve University.
The study is designed to determine how music affects women having a surgical breast biopsy under "twilight" anesthesia -- the anesthesia levels they need, and whether there is a different effect from live or recorded music, played for patients in the pre-op and surgical arenas.
At Ahuja on a recent Tuesday, Palmer is in 86-year-old Frank Piunno's room. He's undergoing treatment for complications from chemotherapy. She talks to him about their shared Italian heritage while he receives a blood transfusion.
Palmer had learned that he and his wife, Gerrie, who live in Willowick, have been married for 60 years. So she sings them the lyrics she wrote that morning to Dean Martin's signature song, "That's Amore."
Palmer's strong, clear voice awes the Piunnos, but guided by lyric sheets, they sing along. Then, as the gray rain pours outside the window, Palmer takes out her guitar and sings a scorching version of "Summertime," as a reminder of summers past and future.
"This is one of the happiest days I've ever had," says Frank, beaming. "I never knew the hospital could be so much fun."
In Joan Regatuso's room, Palmer's role is different. Regatuso, 81, of Hudson, had a stroke in June. It has affected her ability to speak and created weakness on her body's right side.
Palmer asks her to say her name, and Regatuso struggles, unable to muster the words. Palmer explains that voice and motor skills are closely connected in the brain, so music and rhythm will help her with her speech. Among the tools Palmer uses is a bracelet with bells on it that she places on Regatuso's wrist, as well as a paddle drum and a small rubber-topped drumstick. Palmer helps Regatuso use them to increase the range of motion in her right arm. Also, in singsong style, she and Regatuso begin to rhythmically chant, "My name is Joan."
After a few minutes, Palmer again asks her patient her name.
In a dramatically more clear fashion, she states, "My name is Joan."
Then, for fun, Palmer plays "My Favorite Things" on her guitar and sings, so Regatuso can rest for a few minutes. Then, they do a few more exercises, each of which seem to strengthen Regatuso's speech.
Late last month, Palmer helped patient James Mellman, 90, in a completely different way. Mellman, suffering from a serious illness, was upset and frustrated that he wasn't able to keep a promise to his granddaughter, who was getting married. His son, Andrew, explained that James, who graduated from Harvard with a degree in musical composition one year after composer Leonard Bernstein, had written a song for his grandson's wedding in 2007.
He had promised to do the same for his granddaughter, Melinda.
Mellman had composed a tune and could hum it, but his hands were impaired and he couldn't write down the notes.
Palmer told him she could help.
He describes how they worked together: "I sang the notes for her, and she played them back on her keyboard. Any mistakes and I'd say, 'That's a G, not an F.' She transcribed it for me. She was a big help."
Palmer printed up the music that Mellman created -- he describes it as "Broadway-show type of music" -- and his son Andrew sent it to the band to play at the wedding. It's titled "Melinda and Elliott."
Mellman wasn't able to travel to the wedding in Louisville, Ky., but the family recorded it, so that Mellman could watch it later.
Palmer was thrilled. "I was able to help him keep his promise," she says. "For me, it's one of the really profound and glorious things that happens to me in my profession.
"When people are in a hospital bed, their status and profession are stripped from them," she says. "I see the core of a person, and I get to have magical moments with them."
To read this article on Cleveland.com's website, please click here.