Last year, the Detroit Youth Choir sang its hearts out and reached second place on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
This year, the group’s young singers have a different goal. They’re using their voices to call for racial justice with their version of “Glory,” the Oscar-winning song from the 2014 movie “Selma.”
In a video for the recording shot in downtown Detroit and Corktown, the choir performs new lyrics that speak to the protests and pandemic that have defined 2020. “Something must be done as soon as possible, and if we come together we’re unstoppable…Fists up, it’s time to come together on our own street,” recites rapper and former DYC member IndigoYaj, who contributed fresh lyrics.
A powerful segment shows DYC members walking along the city’s “Power to the People” mural that was painted early this month on a portion of Woodward Avenue.
“Beautiful. Powerful. Thank you,” tweeted John Legend, who wrote “Glory” with Common and Rhymefest.
“This rendition of ‘Glory’ by DYC moves me to my core. As it did in our film ‘Selma,’ this version captures our historical and daily cry for justice and equality as Black people in America,” said actor David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in director Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed film, in a statement.
The spark for combining DYC and “Glory” has ties to the long friendship between Oyelowo and Alistair Wilson, the managing director of Imagination Detroit, a branch of the global experience agency that works with Ford Motor Company.
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Wilson met Oyelowo when they were teenagers studying at the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. While he was drawn to producing and the technical side of staged events, Oyelowo pursued acting in the classics and eventually found fame in America through roles in films like “Selma” and “The Queen of Katwe” and the recent PBS miniseries “Les Miserables.”
Last month, Wilson watched an Instagram video where Oyelowo spoke candidly about the racism his Nigerian father faced as an immigrant in England. The actor broke down as he talked about the death of George Floyd and the impact of such tragedies on his oldest son, who’s facing a world that still needs changing.
Said Oyelowo in the video “Please let the future not be the same for my son as it has been for my dad, for me, and for so many Black people over the centuries …. Black people didn’t create the situation we find ourselves in. It therefore can’t be on us to change it. It’s going to be down to all of us.”
Wilson says he was deeply moved by Oyelowo’s talk, which he shared with his three children.
“He’s one of my mates,” says Wilson. “Hearing (this) from him was just heartbreaking.”
Wilson was familiar with the Detroit Youth Choir from Ford’s relationship with the group. In 2019, the Ford Motor Company Fund gave each singer in the 50-plus member choir a $1,000 scholarship and gifted the group with a 15-passenger van.
He got in touch with DYC artistic director Anthony White, who told him that the choir members were hurting both from the toll of COVID-19 on the city’s African-American community and absorbing the news of police killings of Black men and women.
They discussed doing something to give the choir members a way to speak out for social change. “We kind of hatched a plan to record ‘Glory,'” says Wilson.
Imagination Detroit’s team enlisted Grammy winner Gerard Smerek and Scotty Gatteno from metro Detroit’s Yessian music company to work out an arrangement for the song with White and DYC music director Donnell Mosley.
The recording happened in late June at Ferndale’s New Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church
and the Yessian studio in Farmington Hills.
An accompanying video was made by a Detroit director, Everett Stewart, and a crew that shot footage at city landmarks like Michigan Central Station, the Joe Louis fist and the Spirit of Detroit monument.
At one point while filming was underway near Michigan Central Station, multiple police cars arrived to see what all the young people with protest signs were doing. Once the project was explained to th…