A couple of nice, recent notes.
The album’s most moving cut is Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” an almost-journalistic account of the 2015 Charleston church shooting and its aftermath, set to a simple piano arrangement. It’s the only cut on which Baez does not play guitar. “No words could say what must be said / For all the living and the dead,” she sings about Barack Obama’s address at the memorial for the victims, “So on that day and in that place / The President sang ‘Amazing Grace.’” For the final repetition, she alters the lyric: “My President sang ‘Amazing Grace.’” And if that doesn’t get you where you live, you’re no friend of mine.
This site does “top 25” lists and Sept was Joan Baez month. “President” made number 4:
To go along with her Fare Thee Well Tour, Joan Baez also released a new album called Whistle Down the Wind. I always try to include a modern song on all of these countdowns as a way of saying that none of these artists have truly passed their prime, but that the music industry has changed instead. Journey had “After All These Years”, Cat Stevens had “See What Love Did to Me”, and unfortunately Nina Simone passed before I could throw a post millennium song on the countdown. This selection however, seems like the best one of the modern choices thus far. I’ve highlighted a few of Joan Baez’s songs that deal overtly with political situations throughout the 60’s and 70’s, and she is an artist who has spent her life advocating for social justice and reform. I mentioned previously that a lot of these issues have come full circle, and we are often confronting harsh realities and deep divides even within tight familial units. I try to not be overtly political in my articles, but with an artist like this you really can’t help it, and I deeply deeply believe that the current administration has pushed down the gas pedal on the issues that drive people with different viewpoints further apart. So after about a decade of not releasing any studio material, Joan Baez released an album of new music, and on it she released the song I’ve selected here. “The President Sang Amazing Grace” (another interpretation, not originally her song) is about the shooting that took place in Charleston, and Obama’s reaction. It opens up with a very church sounding piano, and Baez’s voice sounds weathered and aged, but still immaculate; almost as if she’s acknowledging that she has been singing for all these years and what has really changed? A nation and community that so desperately needed healing, and needed to feel like things were going to be alright, were met by a leader who seemed to know exactly what to say. He did not try to drive a divide between the shooter and the victims. He did not advocate for the white supremacist shooter or have to be begged to condemn the shooter. He placed emphasis on the word “United” at the end of his sermon, with the goal of bringing people together, especially in the wake of tragedy. When he begins to sing, you can see the faces in the crowd light up, even after such an unspeakable tragedy; a President, who was bashed for being a “secret Muslim” performing one of the most beautifully Christian eulogies I have ever seen by a sitting President. I could go on for paragraphs, but I will just include the link to the song, and then the link to the event the song is based off of, and hope that you can feel a semblance of the optimism I feel when seeing/hearing those two back-to-back: it’s an optimism that I haven’t truly felt in a couple years.