Singing dad’s song brings joy to kindergartner

6-year-old battling brain tumor says music makes her happy; she has had multiple surgeries

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OLYMPIA — Leighton Olsson Courtney has been singing with her dad for as long as she can remember. So it was fitting that the 6-year-old kindergartner at Garfield Elementary in Olympia asked her father to accompany her on guitar when she sang in front of the school at Friday’s end-of-the-year variety show.

“What I like about singing is it can encourage you to be happy and proud of yourself,” Leighton said.

That she chose to sing her dad’s original composition, “Losing Them,” was even better.

“This is beyond huge for me because ever since she was born I’ve always thought ‘I want her in music,'” her dad, Sawyer Courtney, said before the performance. “It’s one of those moments as a father that you look at and go ‘That’s how you do it.’ Like, if there’s ever a moment you’re going to be a dad, this is it. This is your time to shine right now.”

It was their first time performing as a duo, but not Leighton’s first time on stage with her dad. In 2015, at just 4 years old, she made her debut with her father’s band, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Shortly after that, Leighton underwent surgery to assess a massive brain tumor that had left her sick for eight months and already had taken her sight in one eye.

Earlier that year, doctors found the massive, nonmalignant pilocytic astrocytoma brain tumor behind her right eye. She has had three surgeries at Seattle Children’s Hospital to relieve pressure, biopsy the tumor, and install a shunt.

The tumor cannot be removed with surgery, so Leighton has begun chemotherapy treatments, which will continue for more than a year.

“She has fought as hard as she can, and she is doing really well,” her dad said.

Friday’s audience also included Leighton’s mother, Hannah Olsson, and aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends, who were left teary-eyed after the performance.

For Leighton, performing her dad’s song — which deals with friendships and the people that come and go in your life — was a tribute to the man who taught her the love of music.

“I just thought that maybe if I sang this song today, it would make me feel better that I sang it somewhere,” Leighton said.