LaGRANGE — While his body still shows signs of being born three months early — a scar from his tracheotomy, thick glasses from being declared legally blind and a slight limp from a diagnosis of cerebral palsy — it is Anthony’s robust singing voice that keeps people spellbound and on their toes. Most people are blown away by the rich, deep, powerful bass notes that emanate from his throat the first time they hear him.
“Every time he starts singing everyone looks so amazed,” Tonya Ogletree, Anthony’s mom, explained. “Because you look at him and you wouldn’t think that voice would come out of that body.”
It is a sound Ogletree never thought she would hear from her second son. Anthony was born premature and had his first surgery when he was just one month old. Since then, the teen has endured countless more operations on his eyes, legs, and had part of his tongue and intestines removed, Ogletree said.
Anthony was so small, she said she could hold him in the palm of one hand. Even clothes made for premature infants were too large for her tiny son.
Doctors also told Ogletree and her husband Anthony would not live very long.
“I would love to find the doctors who told him he would never talk, walk or live past his second birthday,” she said. “I want to show them what he can do today. He’s a blessing.”
Anthony’s love for music came at the tender age of 3 years old.
“Every time he could hear the music, he would start singing,” Ogletree said. “Then one day, I heard the radio playing in his room. I looked and it was him singing on the floor.”
“Music is a great opportunity for me because it gives the world a chance to hear me sing,” Anthony said. “People can hear me and see where the music is coming from.”
He will be the first to tell you not to underestimate his skills and abilities.
“Some people don’t know it, but I’ve come really far,” he said. “But if you look on the inside, you’ll see the person I really am. … I’ve become more than just a singer; I want to become a gospel recording artist. That’s what I want to do.
“I feel like as long as someone is behind you and pushing you, you can do anything you set your mind to,” he added.
“His dad tells him there’s nothing he can’t do. He tells him to remain humble and that God has a purpose for him,” Ogletree said as her eyes filled with tears. “I cry because to hear him give his own testimony after the doctors told him he wouldn’t even talk. Now he can sing. He’s just blessed. I’m so thankful.”
Kathy Kirby, choir director at Troup High School, met Anthony when he was 5 years old. She was a choir teacher at his elementary school and was impressed with how clearly he spoke. That feeling turned to awe when she reconnected with Anthony in high school and heard him sing.
“Anthony doesn’t let his disability get in the way. … He is a strong-willed person, that’s for sure,” she said.
Kirby will often accompany the teen to his singing engagements in the community.
Anthony has such a close connection to Kirby, he jokingly nicknamed her “Mama Bear One” and told his mom she was now “Mama Bear Two.”
He also shares a deep bond with Katie Kirby, Kathy’s 18-year-old daughter. The two met when Katie was in the 10th grade during rehearsals for the school’s Christmas play. The pair have remained inseparable ever since.
Katie asked Anthony to her senior prom — alongside her boyfriend — in April. Anthony asked Katie to the high school ball last year. She taught him how to socialize with others and to dance. He taught her to reach for the stars.
“He needs to be a motivational speaker,” said Katie. “He’s always telling me not to give up on my dreams.”
“We all have goals we can achieve,” Anthony stated. “You shoot and aim at the moon. If you miss, you’ll still be among the stars.”
It is good advice from a teen who already has an impressive vocal resume. Anthony showcased his talent by singing at the LaGrange Fourth of July Parade, a prayer vigil on the square for law enforcement, various church events and on stage at the Sweetland Amphitheater before the Charlie Daniels concert earlier this month.
Anthony has another dream he hopes come true this summer, with the help of Kathy Kirby. The duo is in the process of sending a DVD with Anthony’s performance to the Braves baseball team in hopes they will pick him to sing the National Anthem before a home game.
Though Anthony will be a senior at Troup High School this year, he will not graduate. His parents decided to keep him in the school’s exceptional learning program until he is 21 years old.
Katie Kirby graduated in June and will be leaving for college in the fall. But the two teens promised to keep in touch while she’s gone.
Kathy Kirby hopes one day Anthony will also attend college and achieve his dream of becoming a gospel singer.
“I hope we can get him into a music school,” she said. “He’s got the singing down … I think he may have perfect pitch.”
“I just want him to use what God blessed him with and be humble about it. Without God, it wouldn’t be possible,” said Ogletree. “I want him to know he can do whatever he sets his mind to. If singing is it, then I’ll be right behind him. I’ll be his biggest cheerleader.”
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.