The obscenity of the crime that took nine lives in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday night is made all the more unbearable by its setting: one of the nation's landmark black churches, a holy space of resistance, resilience and hope. "Mother Emanuel" AME Church was also a site of music-making, with its own choir and frequent guest appearances by other prominent gospel groups. As we contemplate the terror of this event, words provide little solace, but connecting with the great African-American gospel traditions that are the bedrock of American music may at least provide some emotional support and even uplift.
The North Carolina-based family band Delta Rae quickly responded to the Charleston shootings with a song of its own. "All Good People," a song this young white quintet was working on earlier in the week but finished and recorded immediately after the attack at Mother Emanuel, acknowledges the power of the black gospel legacy respectfully and without self-aggrandizing flourishes: This is a simple song, an open-ended attempt to connect and understand. The lyrics recognize the privilege these singers have to stand outside, but then call for an alliance: "We can't hold our breath forever when our brothers cannot breathe."
This song is not enough. It's just one beginning of a crucial conversation, a crucial call to action. But the effort is beautiful and, in putting the gospel sound at the center of this tragedy, important.