The Story of "The President Sang Amazing Grace"

"The President Sang Amazing Grace" tells the story of the 2015 attack that claimed nine lives at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. It first appeared on Zoe's 2017 album "Small Brown Birds" and was widely played on independent folk radio shows across the US. Since then, the song has taken on a larger life, inspiring a variety of artists and finding its way to new audiences.

 The journey began when Joan Baez happened to hear the song on her car radio.

“It's an amazing little tune. When I first heard it, I had to pull the car over, because I started crying. And then for the first two weeks of trying to figure it out on the guitar, I kept crying. I was afraid that when I got in the studio, it wouldn't be over. But I went into the studio, and then I just looked at the musicians and I said, "Let's go to church."”   —Joan Baez, Interviewed by Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered, Feb 27, 2018

Baez covered the song on her Grammy-nominated 2018 album, "Whistle Down the Wind." 

The official video for her track was a hand-drawn animation by Jeff Scher, produced by Rick Litvin.


In 2019, Zoe's lyric and Jeff's paintings were adapted into an illustrated book from Cameron + Company.

In 2020, Kronos Quartet included the song on their album "Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet and Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger". Quartet founder David Harrington wrote "I believe this incredible song could not exist without the life’s work of Pete Seeger, as it asks important questions and says essential things, like he did. It’s an example of a song stepping up to the plate and deeply, beautifully hitting a home run to the heart." (The Guardian, October 19, 2020)

The Kronos arrangement is by Jacob Garchik and the recording features the vocalist Meklit.