- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

FORD CITY, Pa. (AP) - A Manor Township woman whose son died from a heroin overdose in 2002 while at a party in an East Franklin hotel, has found healing through music.

Susan K. Johns, 57, has written songs and played music her whole life - but until recently, never recorded her original compositions. That changed when she started writing and recording songs inspired by the death of her 17-year-old son, Zachary Zion.

She recorded and copyrighted her first jazz song, “Words can’t Take Away My Tears,” in August. Her second song, “I’m Waiting Today,” was released two weeks ago. Both songs were released under the name Suzy Kay.

“When this happened with Zack, I tried to help other kids,” Johns said. “Now, maybe I can help more people through my music.”

Johns said she never had the confidence to record her songs until she started to get feedback from her family and friends. Among those showing support for Johns’s music was her sister, Barbara Jo Stanley.

“Everyone believes in my sister more than she believes in herself,” wrote Stanley in an email from her South Carolina home.

And although Johns has made more than $300 dollars on her songs so far, with fans from as far away as New Zealand and Australia, she said it’s not about the money.

“This is my soul’s outpouring,” she said.

At home in her music room - built by her husband, Jim - Johns finds the solitude she needs to write and compose. Several guitars lean against the wall. Sam, her long-haired Chihuahua, curls up on a sofa near her keyboard and flute.

Johns smiles and laughs easily recalling her lifelong love of music - how she used to play her harmonica in the woods near her grandparents farm in Kittanning Township, or how she would play her flute near the train tracks in McGrann.

But despite her warm smile, Johns‘ grief is always present. It’s there in her eyes as she talks about her blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who loved to play baseball.

He had been a senior at Ford City High School when he died. He was a member of the varsity and junior varsity baseball team, Leo Club, Student Council and Students Against Drunk Driving.

“Time doesn’t heal,” she said. “But it does move you to a new place.”

She wrote the lyrics to her first recorded song after reading her journal entries following Zack’s death and recalled how people had tried to offer words of comfort to help ease her pain.

She composed the music to go with it and was encouraged by Mark Kamer of Ford City to record her song with her own vocals and flute accompaniment. Kamer - who has a recording studio in his home -arranged, mastered and produced Johns‘ music.

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