From the moment President Barack Obama approached the platform to give the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney on Friday, the organist was ready.
Few people expected Obama to become the Preacher-in-Chief. And probably no one thought he would sing.
But that’s what he did after discussing the importance of the black church’s past and the necessity of the community in the future.
Obama’s words on grace especially – a core biblical concept – appeared to move him spontaneously to song. While this is very common among preachers in the black church tradition, it is less common for a President to break out in song mid-sermon.
After discussing the ongoing fight for racial equality and the role of justice in the historic black church, Obama sang the old Christian hymn “Amazing Grace”:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
The song was written in 1779 by English clergyman John Newton, a former slave trader who later became an abolitionist.
The hymn was especially poignant in the wake of last week’s events, which has seen a spirited nationwide discussion about race.