How Is This 13-year-old Musician Using “Christmas Smiles” To Help Fight Children’s Cancer?


Earlier this year during the K’naan show at Metro we told you how, a fan, 13-year-old aspiring singer-songwriter Kate Diaz from Chicago, was invited on stage to sing and play guitar for K’naan’s excellent African folk-pop ballad “Be Free”. During that song, like everyone else around me, I watched amazed at the skill and composure of Kate as she nailed the song, ultimately putting a big pleasureful smile of approval on K’naan’s face too.

Cheers and a roaring applause erupted after Kate finished strumming the song’s final chord. It was truly a moment where a fan was transforming into an artist right before our very eyes.

And as an exclusive Live Fix encore fan interview, I caught up with Kate to ask her about how she felt during her K’naan performance, the secret to why she shares her cover songs on YouTube, and why she decided to write an original song called “Christmas Smiles” to help fight children’s cancer.

LF: What inspired you to use your love for music and live performance to help raise support for CureSearch and awareness for Children’s Cancer Research? How did you get involved in the Sister Hazel charity concert last year at the House of Blues?

KD: I go to a soccer leadership camp for a week in the summer, and we write proposals for a service project to do during the year. I know two kids who have cancer, and I think it is just the worst thing that could happen to a kid. My idea last year was to raffle off my old kid-sized guitar at Potbelly’s and donate all my tips from Thanksgiving to Christmas to children’s cancer.

Last fall, someone requested “All For You” and when I was looking up the lyrics online I learned that Sister Hazel actually ran a children’s cancer charity. So I emailed their charity to tell them I would donate, and their office offered to have the band sign my guitar, and also put a link to my YouTube on their website. Then, Sister Hazel’s tour came to Chicago last December, and a few days before their show, they invited me to play with them.

You’ve written and recorded an original song “Christmas Smiles” for a second charity project this year. Can you tell us what inspired you to write the song and how it evolved from the YouTube version (see video below) to the new full band and professionally produced version you’re releasing on iTunes and Amazon?

I actually wrote the song last year. Last November I was working on a song called ‘Miles of Smiles’ when my chorus teacher asked me to write a Christmas song. I thought about what Christmas is about to me, and ‘Miles of Smiles’ became ‘Christmas Smiles.’

I’m excited about releasing “Christmas Smiles” via iTunes and Amazon because I had the chance to record the song professionally in a studio with a full band including a drummer, pianist and bass guitarist playing with me.

And for my summer camp service project this year, I am hoping that making the song available through the Internet on iTunes will help raise more donations than last year’s raffle at Potbelly’s.

In the last year, you’ve had the chance to play on stage with Sister Hazel and K’naan. How have those experiences impacted your own music? What did you learn from those shows?

Both experiences were amazing, and to perform in front of so many people was really great. I had never played with a band before, let alone awesome bands like them. Both bands were so nice, and I feel honored that they asked me. I learned what it feels like to perform in front of a large audience, and it feels amazing.

It seems like you’re completely comfortable on stage and very confident in front of a big crowd. How did you learn to play live so naturally at such a young age, and what artists inspire you the most?

I don’t know, I just love to perform! I am most inspired by individual tracks I hear that I like, sometimes I like the lyrics, sometimes I like the melody, and sometimes I like the message.

You play regular gigs at Potbelly’s near your home. How and why did you start performing there?

Two summers ago, my brother went out and got a job for his community service hours requirement for high school. Since I had nothing to do, I asked my mom if I could apply to play at Potbelly’s because I had always seen singer-guitarists there. So we went to a few Potbelly’s, until I found one that would let me have a try-out.

What were some of your first live shows like for you, and what did you learn from them?

My first show was at a local Sam Ash Music Store in 5th grade because I had won a contest. I was pretty nervous, but after the show I felt really proud. Since then, I don’t really get nervous anymore, so I guess I learned how to control my nerves.

You have several really good cover songs on your YouTube channel. How do those virtual performances help you prepare for your live shows?

It’s actually the other way around. I usually hear a new song I like, I figure it out and play it for a few weeks at Potbelly’s, and then I put some of them on YouTube when I have time. Learning great songs helps a lot with songwriting. It’s like studying from experts.

What advice do you have for anyone else who might want to promote their music or get used to performance by having their own YouTube Channel?

I get valuable feedback in messages and comments from musicians and really nice people from all over the world. It’s been great and I think anyone else could also get great advice from YouTube too.

If you could play one “dream” venue in the world where would it be and why?

It doesn’t really matter what venue, but my dream would be to play with Paul McCartney because he is a songwriting hero of mine. If I could write a song with him too, that would be awesome!

If you could take one element of your favorite concert you experienced as a fan and use it to inspire your own live show, what concert and band would it be and why?

The only big band concerts I have been to are Sister Hazel and K’naan. I guess the element I would use in my own show would be to have another kid come and share the stage, just like they did for me.

What do you love the most about performing live?

When you play songs you wrote and you see that the audience likes them, it’s awesome.

Thanks again to Kate for sharing her story and live music experience. To help donate money to CureSearch for Children’s Cancer from now until December 25th, you can download Christmas Smiles on  iTunes or Amazon. You can also get more info on Kate’s website at

Kate will be playing a charity show at Potbelly’s later this month. Here’s the details so you can go see her perform live:

  • Where: Potbelly’s in Buffalo Grove, Illinois US, NE corner of Lake Cook & Weiland
  • What: FREE Christmas Charity Concert, Potbelly’s will donate 25% of dinner sales 5-9pm
  • When: Dec. 18th, 6-8pm

Photos by Colleen Catania

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