President Obama’s plan to sing “Amazing Grace” during the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of a Charleston, South Carolina church who was among the nine murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Church last month, was initially met with skepticism from first lady Michelle Obama, according to the family’s close confidante, Valerie Jarrett.
Jarrett gave the backstory to Obama’s decision to sing the Christian hymn during a question-and-answer session at the Aspen Institute last week.
The senior advisor recalled that during the helicopter ride to Pinckney’s service, which was held at the College of Charleston, Obama informed her and Michelle that he was considering singing the song.
“Hmm,” Jarrett said she replied.
The first lady’s response was more critical.
“Why on earth would that fit in?” she asked, according to Jarrett.
“I don’t know whether I’m going to do it, but I just wanted to warn you two that I might sing,” Obama said.
“I think if I sing, the church will sing with me,” he continued, adding, “we’ll see how it feels at the time.”
Jarrett said that Obama realized as soon as he began speaking that the crowd would be receptive to his singing.
“He knew they were with him,” Jarrett said of the audience. At the end of his eulogy for Pinckney, who was also a state senator, Obama repeated the words “amazing grace” twice before launching into the song and bringing the audience to its feet.
On the helicopter ride from Charleston back to the White House, Jarrett said she asked Obama whether during the eulogy he reconsidered the plan to sing.
“Oh no, I knew I was going to sing, I was just trying to figure out which key to sing in,” Obama said, according to Jarrett.