“I was struck by the song’s message,” Ms. Jones said in a statement. “In a post-9/11 era, being ‘patriotic’ was polarizing. This song, however, transcended the mudslinging at the time. It carries such a beautiful sentiment, one that honors the past and commits to the work we have to do going forward. At its core, the song is aspirational.” It’s even more poignant today, she added, “when we are seeing such strong opposition to each other within our own country.”
“I think it really fits with President Biden’s message of unity and collaboration,” she said.
Last year, after singing the work at the service for Justice Ginsburg, Ms. Graves met with Vice President Kamala Harris, who was then a senator, and Mr. Biden, who told her how touched he was by the song, she recalled.
“I told him it was from my friend Gene Scheer,” she said. “When the president mentioned it in his speech, I nearly fell over. It’s a beautiful way to begin the new year.”
In recent years, Mr. Scheer has found success as an opera librettist: He wrote the librettos for Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick,” Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy,” and Jennifer Higdon’s “Cold Mountain”; and his works have been performed at the Met Opera, the Royal Opera House in London and on other prestigious stages.
But the success of this song, he said, felt more personal. When President Biden quoted it this week, it made him think of his parents, he said, and he wished they had lived to see the inauguration.
“When Biden did this, it felt like I was connecting to my folks in a very meaningful and visceral way,” he said, adding that his mother would have been “ecstatic” to see Ms. Harris become vice president and that his parents “would have championed everything Biden was saying.”
Which included these words, from their son’s song:
The work and prayers of centuries
Have brought us to this day
What shall be our legacy?
What will our children say?
Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
America, America I gave my best to you.