In 2015, a man killed 9 men and women at a Charleston church.
In the midst of his powerful eulogy, President Obama sang “Amazing Grace.” Zoe Mulford wrote a song about that moment. Joan Baez recorded it.
Now Jeff Scher has brought that inspiring song about death and hope to life.
The 1972 Staples High School graduate is a filmmaker and animator. He’s now back in Westport, working in a Cross Highway studio a few steps from his house.
Scher has carved out a compelling niche. His hundreds of drawings in “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” helped earn the HBO documentary about a Holocaust survivor a place in the permanent display of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.
He created the official video for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children.” Bob Dylan and Paul Simon hired him to make holiday videos. A short film about summer and water — “L’eau Life” — features many Westport scenes.
But right now, his Obama/Baez is creating the biggest buzz.
Scher’s hundreds of hand-drawn watercolor and pastel images draw viewers in to a story they already know.
The challenge, the artist says, was to convey the intense emotion of the president’s eulogy — but in the end, Baez’s song was about someone else singing a different song. It’s also about murder.
Fortunately, Scher says, the tune is “beautifully written, with a clear narrative. It opens slowly, pulls you in, and has an incredible emotional arc.”
And, he notes, “Somehow Obama, with his humble singing voice, turned grief into grace. With humility, compassion, and a 200-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 saw his job as “framing” Mulford’s song, rather than “illustrating” it. “I did not want to get in the way of the lyrics,” he explains.
He told the Atlantic, which premiered the video: “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.”
The song and video are called “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”
Thanks to Zoe Mulford, Joan Baez — and Jeff Scher — the result is both amazing and graceful.