Nashville Song “Mother Emanuel” Will Be Sung At Memorial For Charleston Church Shooting

Shirley Caesar

Shirley Caesar

Gospel legend Shirley Caesar will perform “Mother Emanuel” this weekend at a memorial for the shooting deaths of nine Charleston, South Carolina, church members on the one-year anniversary of that tragedy.

The song originated with Nashville songwriter Chip Davis, who wrote it with gospel notables Donnie McGuire and Reba Rambo McGuire. Caesar’s recording was crafted by Nashville producers Sanchez Harley and Jacqui Whittmon and released this month by Nashville’s eOne Records.

“This song is going to bring some healing,” Caesar has said.

“I wish I could be there for the memorial service,” said Davis. “But my first commitment is to my regular job, performing on the road with Alabama.”

“It is my hope that the nation and the world will embrace this piece…to speak out against hate,” added Harley.

The tragedy that inspired Davis and his co-writers occurred on June 17, 2015. Gunman Dylann Roof attended a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The white supremacist shot and killed eight church members and their pastor, who was also a South Carolina state senator. Emanuel is one of the oldest African American churches in the U.S.

Roof said he committed the massacre in hopes of starting a race war. He has been indicted on 33 federal hate crime charges. He is also charged with nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. On June 9, he announced he did not want to be tried by a jury. If his request is granted, his verdict and sentencing will be decided by the presiding judge this fall.

The Nashville recording of “Mother Emanuel” incorporates President Obama’s recitation of the victim’s names. The ballad expresses forgiveness and healing. These qualities, sung as “the courage to forgive” in the lyrics, have characterized the church congregation’s response to the crimes. Caesar will join Rev. Bernice King and perform the song in Charleston during the Mother Emanuel Tree Dedication memorial on June 18.

“Mother Emanuel” is on Shirley Caesar’s new album, Fill This House, which debuted at No. 1 this week on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart. Caesar is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame who has earned 11 Grammy Awards, 18 Dove Awards, 14 Stellar Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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