Jeff Scher’s Amazing, Graceful Video

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.

Jeff Scher

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.

5 responses to “Jeff Scher’s Amazing, Graceful Video

  1. Michael Pettee (Saint Paul)

    What a wonderful piece and a moving tribute to that eulogy, Jeff. I love the spring flowers morphing into thousands of mourners.

  2. Wow, so beautifully done! Thank you for this. Why parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and when my mother asked her granddaughter to sing at the ceremony. Our daughter, a junior at Staples, chose to sing Amazing Grace. At first I wondered if it was the right song and as I listened to the words, as she was singing, I thought it was perfect. It is so true about the opening and beautiful lyrics of grace, hope and humanity. To nowhere such beautiful art as a tribute is inspiring.

  3. Gretchen Shea

    I echo Michael’s thoughts on your piece. The flowers brought me back to my parents gardens on Mayflower Parkway, and your home with the studio with the huge window. It was a watershed place for me – that having a space for one’s self and mind is something that we can have and hold dear. I am gladdened that you create such thoughtful beauty

  4. That was a time when the President tried to unite and lead all the people and not just those who voted for him.

  5. What an amazing video, Jeff! Beautiful. Majestic. Poignant. It simultaneously saddened me and lifted my heart. Thank you!