In June 2015, following a mass shooting at a church, Barack Obama, then the President of the United States, delivered a touching eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. During his address at the service for the shooting victims, in a truly humbling moment, he tearfully sang Amazing Grace, leading the congregation in singing the hymn.
That powerful moment compelled singer-songwriter Zoe Mulford to write the song The President Sang Amazing Grace shortly afterwards. And now, less than three years later, when the entire country is reeling under a peak of mass shootings and protests against the same, folk singer Joan Baez released the animated music video above for her rendition of the song.
“I was driving when I heard The President Sang Amazing Grace and I had to pull over,” Baez told The Atlantic. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she said, “It’s so expressive of my thoughts and feelings, which are pretty f**king gloomy, but she did it in such a beautiful way that’s as dark as it is beautiful.”
Filmmaker and painter Jeff Scher encapsulates that very thought and the “deeply moving” moment that Obama sung Amazing Grace in his powerful animation. “Somehow Obama, with his humble singing voice, turned grief into grace. With humility, compassion, and a two-hundred-year-old hymn, he made us feel that the evil deeds of a sick individual could not shake the bonds of our common humanity,” he told The Atlantic. “I wanted the scenes to feel like they were blooming from the white of the paper, like a photograph in a developer or a memory emerging from a cloud. I wanted it to feel as if the scenes were being remembered... which is really the grand goal of the song.”
You can watch Obama singing Amazing Grace below:
Scher wanted to give the animation a thoroughly human feel, which prompted his decision to use only watercolour and pastel, which he believes have the “most emotion” of any mediums. The video renders not just Obama’s song and eulogy, but also the portraits of the nine men and women who were killed in the mass shooting.
The song is part of Baez’s new and final album, Whistle Down the Wind, while the animated video is the first of a 10-part “visual album” of distinctive short films made in collaboration with New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
You can hear the original version by Zoe Mulford below: