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Nov19FriFrom kettle bells to Broadway, this sister duo's talent soars. November 19, 2021 by Melissa Yue Wallace
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- Faith & Friends
Two sisters from Fort Frances, Ont., have garnered international attention for their moving rendition of An Easter Hallelujah, a video posted in March 2021 on various social media channels that has attracted more than 25 million views.
In the video, Cassandra Star Armstrong, 11, and her sister, Callahan, 20, sing with a purity described by viewers as “angelic,” with many commenting that they were “moved to tears.” The sisters recorded the song for their Nana, who at the time was in hospital, and it provided encouragement not only to her but to millions who were looking for inspiration and peace.
“When people heard our Hallelujah song, I think it made them realize that they are not alone because Jesus is always with us,” says Cassandra. “He went through all of that pain and suffering for us, and just as so many people were sick and in pain during COVID-19, everyone was looking for hope.”
Performing comes naturally for the siblings, which includes their brother, Christian, 17. From a young age, the trio were singing at family and community functions, including a fundraiser for The Salvation Army, during mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and at the local Festival of the Performing Arts.
“They were harmonizing and singing together all the time, every day,” says their mother, Nikki. “It was just something they always did, and they knew that whenever there was a special occasion, all my parents and I wanted was for them to sing.”
For the Armstrong family, sharing the gift of music was just one way they could give back to a community that supported them through a tough time.
On March 3, 1994, the Armstrongs welcomed their first child, Nicholas, into the world.
“He was medically fragile with multiple health issues, and was unable to walk or talk,” explains Nikki. “He couldn’t do many things but he loved to smile and cuddle.”
Given a heartbreaking prognosis, Nicholas spent much of his life in and out of hospitals and eventually passed away in 2008 in his mother’s arms, his siblings cuddled around him. He was only 14.
The Salvation Army’s toy drive was in full swing since it was the end of November, so instead of flowers, Nikki requested funeral attendees bring stuffed animals.
“We had the hugest mountain of stuffed animals and it was the most beautiful act of kindness,” she says. A tag affixed to each stuffed toy read: “Merry Christmas with love from an angel named Nicholas.”
“We started connecting with The Salvation Army at that point, and they included the toys with the Christmas hampers,” Nikki continues.
“It was heartwarming to think that so many kids could have something special in honour of my son. When Cassandra was little, she always wanted to make sure I brought Nicholas into every conversation if people asked how many children I had. I assured her, ‘Honey, I’ll never forget him.’ ”
The Armstrongs continued to be involved with The Salvation Army in various capacities, from volunteering on kettle shifts, representing the Army on a float during the Santa Claus parade, and singing for the grand opening of their new building.
“It started out with Callahan and Christian volunteering at the kettles and they didn’t want to just stand there and ring the bell, they wanted to use their gifts to sing Christmas songs,” says Nikki.
When Cassandra got older, she joined in the singing. “We found that when they sang, people would stand and listen and put money in. A shift would mean a few thousand dollars. It was unbelievable,” says Nikki, who estimates her children sang for seven consecutive years.
“Volunteering for The Salvation Army was something that was dear to our hearts and always has been.”
After going viral, opportunities continue to pour in for Callahan and Cassandra to perform at various venues. They will be singing at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., this month and again in February 2022 after the CEO and his staff were moved by An Easter Hallelujah.
“It wasn’t us who went viral, it was actually God who did,” says Cassandra. “It was beautiful that it was His Word that spread all over the world, and my sister and I were just His messengers who sang the story.”
Callahan is a music and education major in her third year of college and is passionate about performing. Cassandra auditioned for and was invited to attend Kristin Chenoweth’s Broadway Camp in June. Since December 2020, she has worked with Dan Micciche, the director of Broadway’s Wicked, and Michael Orland, the music director of American Idol for 16 seasons. Cassandra has worked over Zoom with Broadway stars, including Hamilton’s Mandy Gonzalez and Wicked’s Kara Lindsay, and she has more than 39,000 subscribers on her personal YouTube channel.
Her dreams include starring on Broadway and becoming a teacher when she is older.
“I want to be a teacher of little kids at the same school I go to right now,” she says. “I would make sure that my classroom had God and music in it every day.”
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