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Obama's 'Amazing Grace' for Charleston's Emanuel AME victims focus of new Joan Baez song

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Obama singing Amazing Grace (copy)

President Barack Obama sings "Amazing Grace" during a service honoring the Rev. Clementa Pinckney on June 26, 2015. Pinckney was among those killed in the Emanuel AME Church shooting. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Revered folk singer Joan Baez sings of the Emanuel AME Church shooting and President Barack Obama's healing words in a song included in her latest  — and final — career album.

"The President Sang Amazing Grace" touches on the murderous attack by Dylann Roof and the recovery Charleston went through following the loss of nine church members.

"A young man came to a house of prayer," the lyrics go.

"They did not ask what brought him there. He was not friend, he was not kin but they opened the door and let him in.

"And for an hour the stranger stayed. He sat with them and he seemed to pray. But then the young man drew a gun and killed nine people, old and young."

The song continues into when Obama sang at the eulogy and funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

"In Charleston in the month of June, the mourners gathered in a room.

"The president came to speak some words, and the camera rolled and the nation heard.

"But no words could say what must be said for all the living and the dead. So on that day and in that place, the president sang 'Amazing Grace.'”

The song appears on her new album "Whistle Down the Wind," released earlier this month. 

Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Zoe Mulford wrote the song not long after the 2015 shooting. Baez reportedly reached out to Mulford for permission to cover the song after hearing it on the radio.

"She did it in such a beautiful way that's as dark as it is beautiful," Baez told Rolling Stone.

Particularly powerful is an animated video tied to the song, which was directed and animated by Jeff Scher. It premiered Tuesday on The Atlantic magazine's website.

For 3 minutes and 20 seconds, the piece uses watercolor and pastel to illustrate the exterior of Emanuel AME Church, along with moments from Pinckney's funeral at the TD Arena in Charleston and portraits of the nine individual shooting victims.

The Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother died at Emanuel, saw the video Tuesday night after a friend from seminary sent it to her.

Risher describes herself as someone who feels emotions in big ways, but said she did not cry when she watched the video.

"This time, there were no tears. It was just a beating of my heart and pride," she said by phone. "It was just something, this feeling, that settled right there in my heart knowing that people are not forgetting them."

Her mother, Ethel Lance, was Emanuel's sexton and a devoted lifelong member of the church.

Since the tragedy, Risher has been outspoken about the nation's gun laws as one of the national spokespersons for the grassroots advocacy groups Everytown and Moms Demand Gun Sense.

At the heart of everything she does is her mother.

"I talk to Momma a lot and tell her all the wonderful creations for them. I pray I will get the opportunity to thank Joan Baez in person," Risher told The Post and Courier. 

Scher, who animated the video, told The Atlantic that he chose watercolor and pastel to evoke emotion and to honor the lives of the nine victims.

"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," Scher said.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

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