TAMPA, Fla. — When nursing homes were closed to visitors during the pandemic volunteer Priya Sambasivan was determined to share her singing abilities with seniors in need of entertainment. 

What You Need To Know

  • Priya Sambasivan hit a high note with an online program that is being used at numerous senior communities 

  • When she couldn't volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic, she created a virtual sing-along called PRIYA-FM

  • Senior living communities in six states are now tuning in

Going virtual with a sing-along for seniors, the Robinson High School student's online program hit a high note and is now being used at senior communities in six different states. 

"I've literally been singing since before I could speak," said Sambasivan.

The 17-year-old knows numerous standards from the 1930's to the late 1950's, songs that were popular long before she was born, including hits like Paul Anka's "Put your head on my shoulder." 

"I can't imagine myself not singing," said Sambasivan, who calls jazz one of her favorite genres. 

Nearly two years ago she was set to volunteer and sing at a nursing facility in the Tampa Bay area, but COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns derailed those plans. 

She pivoted and created a virtual sing-along she calls PRIYA-FM

"I might as well give back to the people who may not have been as fortunate," she said. "I was definitely feeling the loneliness and thinking I can't imagine what it would be like for other people out there." 

Instead of personal performances with live music, Sambasivan now uses a mic, laptop and Zoom. 

"And it works great," she said. 

So much so that she says senior living communities in six states have started tuning in. 

"This one lady, she was so sweet, " she said. "She was dancing in her room and singing along." 

Sambasivan said studying medicine is in her future, and she plans to focus on how music can bring back the memory of patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's.

Singer Tony Bennett — who, while battling Alzheimer's, just broke a Guinness world record as the oldest person to release an album of new material — is an example of the power of music, she said. 

"He might not remember the names of friends or family members, but he knows the lyrics to all of his songs," she said.  "Music and arts are stored in a different place in your brain than other information". 

Sambasivan plans to use her gift to bring seniors and those still in isolation a little bit more closer as long as the pandemic continues. 

"If you have a gift it doesn't hurt to share it, " she said with a laugh.