Vanderbilt University Medical Center

News and information for the Vanderbilt University Medical Center community

Toggle navigation
Employee Spotlight

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt 20th birthday celebration kicks off with performance from employee musician Darnell Clay

Clay is a familiar face around Monroe Carell. As a Nutrition Services team member, he delivers food trays to patients. Few were aware of his love of music.

by February 6, 2024

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt kicked off a weeklong celebration of its 20th birthday as a freestanding facility in the Nashville area with a performance by former patient and current employee Darnell Clay.

Clay is a familiar face around Monroe Carell. As a Nutrition Services team member, he delivers food trays to patients.

Few were aware of his love of music.

“I love to make people smile,” said Clay. “And more than that, I love to make people smile with music.

“There is so much emotion in my mind and my heart right now, and I’m excited to share and sing from my heart,” he said just before taking the stage, located on the second floor of Monroe Carell.

Clay, born at 27 weeks gestation and only 1.11 pounds, spent three months in the NICU at Vanderbilt in 2002. Now 21, he feels fortunate to work among teams who cared for him and to be able to provide a service to patients and families.

“I love my job, and I love interacting with patients. Being born here, working here and now playing for the children is a blessing,” Clay said. “Not many people know that I play. This was sort of like my debut and a dream come true.

“Sometimes I bring my guitar with me to work. I am blessed to have the ability to sing and play. Music really heals people in many ways.”

Clay performed a medley of songs including “Happy Birthday,” a host of tunes from Buck Owens, who influenced his musical taste and an original song, “I Wish I Could Sing to the Children.” His performance  received resounding applause from the audience, which included his parents, Darnell Jr. and Michelle Clay, who said, “We are so proud and happy for him. We get the biggest grins as people come up and tell us about him and how he impacts their days.”

The pair said that their son always loved music and started his musical journey using pots and pans from their kitchen. Once the Clays realized their son had a musical ear, they purchased a set of drums.

While he took a few guitar lessons, it was during COVID that he eventually taught himself how to play and honed his skills.

“He was in the eighth grade when he came home and told us he wanted to be in the school’s talent show,” said Michelle Clay. “It was the first time he performed and sang. He did a fantastic job.”

After graduating from high school, Clay attended college for a short time, but really wanted to be in the workforce. The family learned about Project SEARCH, a nine-month unpaid internship that offers offering young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities free job training, educational development, and employment opportunities.

He entered the program in 2022 and began working at Monroe Carell in 2023.

“Darnell loves it here; he loves the people; he loves the kids,” said his father. “It’s a great fit for him because he has a heart of gold and a passion to help. He genuinely cares. His job matches up perfectly with his personality.”

Darnell Clay, Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, music